Video: Sanford and sins

updated 6/24/2009 8:08:16 PM ET 2009-06-25T00:08:16

How did he think he could get away with it?

To visit his lover in Argentina, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford slipped his security detail, lied to his staff about his whereabouts and neglected to transfer executive power to the lieutenant governor in case of a state emergency.

Arrogance and hubris, perhaps — qualities many politicians share (think Bill Clinton, John Edwards, John Ensign ...) But his emotional news conference Wednesday suggested something more: that months of remorse and heartbreak may have colored Sanford's judgment, leaving him damaged, raw and alone.

"I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina," Sanford told reporters as he confessed a yearlong affair with a woman there, inadvertently bringing to mind the theme music from the Broadway musical "Evita."

His wife, Jenny, was aware of the dalliance and they were all but separated, Sanford said. He had flown to Argentina to end the relationship, realizing it could not work.

Dishonesty and evasion
The Republican governor's candor and willingness to answer direct and often intimate questions about his transgression stunned and softened even some of his bitterest enemies. GOP state Sen. Jake Knotts, who railed against Sanford's "lies" Wednesday morning, went on television after the news conference to sing his praises.

"Life has problems, and you have to work with people to help them with their problems," Knotts told CNN. "Personal problems are worse than any political problems."

Sympathetic or not, Sanford's confession came after a week of remarkable dishonesty and evasion.

The Republican governor disappeared from the state and misled his staff, telling them he was hiking the Appalachian Trail to escape a stressful legislative session — a lie his spokesman repeated to the public and news media. He also irked lawmakers, including the state's Republican lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, for leaving no one in charge in his absence. And when confronted by a reporter at the Atlanta airport about his whereabouts, Sanford said he'd gone to Buenos Aires because "it's a great city."

And what about his security detail, charged with protecting him at all times?

Rande Matteson, a professor of criminal justice at Florida's St. Leo University and a former federal law enforcement agent, said lawmakers can and do occasionally dismiss the officers charged with overseeing their safety.

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"The governor can do what he wants," Matteson said. "If the governor says, 'See you later, don't follow me,' that's their boss. They have to follow what the governor wants to do."

Did the governor want to be caught?
Indeed, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat who resigned last year after he was linked to a prostitution service, was said to have dismissed his security detail to meet a call girl for a tryst at a Washington hotel.

Neil Thigpen, a political science professor at South Carolina's Francis Marion University, said that judging from Sanford's behavior, the governor wanted to be caught.

"I almost feel like he did this whole thing with the intention that it would all come out," Thigpen said. "It's like the guy wanted it out. Why did he draw attention to himself in this fashion? Even with rudimentary scrutiny, he should have known something would bring it to a head."

While Sanford apologized to his wife and four sons, friends and voters across the state, his transgressions almost certainly killed any presidential hopes he may have harbored and could force him to step down as governor.

"I don't think he can survive," said David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University. "If he and Jenny could reconcile and go on a tour and ask for support, they could survive. His friends are in the electorate, and for them to embrace him, he has to have contrition. Absent that I think he has to leave."

Jenny Sanford released a statement late Wednesday saying she had asked her husband to move out two weeks ago for a trial separation. Friends said they knew the couple had been having marital difficulties and sought counseling while trying to be good parents to their four young sons.

"Mark is a friend, so is Jenny and the children, and it's painful to see someone hurt," said Kevin Hall, a longtime friend and political adviser to Sanford. "It's painful to see a family have to hurt publicly. I'm not responsible for the public response to this at all. I'm interested in the well-being of the family."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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