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Sanford expected back at work today, published 6/24/2009

Gov. Mark Sanford's staff continued to tell the public Tuesday night that the governor was hiking along the Appalachian Trail even after a reporter greeted him at the Atlanta airport on his way home from a vacation in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Sanford told the State Media Company that he decided at the last minute to go to South America to recharge after a tough legislative session. He told his staff he might go hiking.

"But I said 'no' I wanted to do something exotic ... It's a great city," he said during an interview at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Sanford said he was alone on the trip and declined to give any additional details other than to say he drove along the coastline.

He told the reporter he didn't know why his staff told reporters he was on the Appalachian Trail.

The governor's office has scheduled a press conference that is set to begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The Post and Courier e-mailed the governor's press secretary Joel Sawyer at 5:40 p.m. Tuesday and asked about a tip that the governor was in Aruba or Antigua.

Sawyer returned the e-mail and said the tip was wrong. When our reporter pressed him for more information about 8 p.m., Sawyer wrote: "My understanding is that he's on the (Appalachian Trail), or presumably on the way back at this point. ... We haven't said where on the AT he is because I don't know specifically.

"Also, as I indicated first thing this morning (go back and read the statement) the governor called in to his Chief of Staff first thing this morning."

Messages left by The Post and Courier for Sawyer this morning weren't immediately returned.

Sanford told The State reporter he left Thursday night from the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Media reports said a State Law Enforcement Division SUV the governor drove that night was spotted in the airport's parking lot. Sanford said he decided not to return via the Columbia airport to avoid the media.

South Carolina will be waiting for the governor's explanation today.

South Carolina State Senate Democratic Leader John C. Land, III, D-Manning, said in a statement Wednesday that the people of South Carolina deserve "complete honesty" from the governor.

"The Governor's office misled the media, the Lt. Governor, and the people of South Carolina," Land said. "Never in my 32 years as a state Senator have I witnessed a Governor and his staff act in a more dishonest, secretive, and bizarre manner. There is something very wrong here and serious questions need to be asked about the Governor's 6 day disappearance."

Sen. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia, said that this incident shows the world the level of dishonesty that legislators have known for seven years. The governor has dealt the press, elected officials, SLED and the citizens of South Carolina a bunch of "bizarre untruths," Knotts said today in a statement.

A security guard at the governor's mansion Wednesday morning said he couldn't comment on the family's status. There appeared to be no activity at the house.

Jenny Sanford, through a SLED agent, declined requests for interviews when reached at the family's Sullivan's Island beach home late Wednesday morning.

A red Ford Crown Victoria with a female SLED agent inside was blocking the driveway, and at least one SLED agent is in the home. A black Labrador could be seen running in the yard.

Few argue that a governor deserves a little R&R, but his absence left many questions unanswered: Why did the governor leave without telling his wife, the state's top law enforcement officer or the lieutenant governor where he was going?

What exactly was he doing? And how would the state have handled an emergency should one have arisen while he was away and out of touch?

Check back with postandcourier.com for continuing developments on this breaking story.