U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend and ally of embattled Gov. Mark Sanford, cautioned South Carolinians on Wednesday to take a deep breath and let the State Ethics Commission investigate the governor's travel.

"What I would hope is the Ethics Commission gets to do their job in a thorough way without any politics involved, and any decisions made by state officials would be made on facts and not political grudges," the Republican lawmaker said.

They were Graham's first extensive comments about his friend's situation since the immediate aftermath of Sanford's June announcement that he had left the state for five days to visit his mistress in Argentina.

At the time, Graham said he hoped the Sanfords would reconcile.

Since then, Sanford's wife Jenny and the couple's four sons moved from the governor's mansion in Columbia to their beachfront home on Sullivan's Island.

An Associated Press investigation also revealed that Sanford used state planes for personal and political trips, which state law prohibits, and took pricey commercial flights.

The State Ethics Commission is looking into the governor's travel, while state Sen. David Thomas is conducting a separate investigation.

The House Republican Caucus, meeting in Myrtle Beach last weekend, indicated that it wants Sanford to step down. None of the 56 lawmakers attending raised a word in his defense.

Graham, godfather to the youngest of Sanford's four sons, said he is in contact with the governor regularly and spoke with him Tuesday night.

"I think on the family front there has been some improvement. He seems to be in a better place personally. He sounds like the old Mark," Graham said.

"The political situation has deteriorated with all these allegations and investigations."

Graham said any action taken by lawmakers affects more than Sanford.

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.

"What we do today will follow South Carolinians for generations to come," he said.

"I hope people won't overreact and give the Ethics Commission a chance to hear both sides."

There are no good options for South Carolina now, and changing governors and a Cabinet for 16 months "would create a certain amount of discomfort and upheaval," the senator said.

Sanford has repeatedly said he will not resign, and Graham said the two have not discussed the possibility.

"If the Ethics Commission shows a pattern of abuse, that would be very difficult for Mark," he said. "If it shows there's a technical violation of a reporting requirement, that would be different."

Graham said he hopes Sanford can serve out his term, "but he has to show that he can be effective and that he and other members of the General Assembly can get things done."