39 trips for Sanford with no security in '09

EXCLUSIVE: Governor's secret trip prompts scrutiny

cleblanc@thestate.comJuly 2, 2009 

A South Carolina Department of Protective Services officer walks through the lobby of the State House on Wednesday, passing the hallway to Gov. Mark Sanford’s office.

ERIK CAMPOS/ECAMPOS@THESTATE.COM

Gov. Mark Sanford left the Governor’s Mansion without a security escort, 38 times in 2008. In the first six months of this year, he left the mansion without security, 39 times.

Those trips are about one-third of the 195 trips Sanford made from the mansion, with or without security, over that 18-month period.

The frequency with which the governor shed his security detail has fallen under scrutiny after his secret trip earlier this month to Argentina.

The information was obtained from security logs provided to The State newspaper under open-records laws.

Only on a few occasions when he did not have security with him, Sanford was accompanied by a guest.

The day when Sanford made the most trips in and out of the house without security was the day after Mother’s Day, the records show. Sometimes he was by himself, and sometimes a guest was with him.

That day, May 11, the governor - whom the logs identify as “G1” - made seven trips from the mansion on Arsenal Hill.

One of those was a 7:59 a.m. departure with Cubby Culbertson, a counselor to the Sanfords.

Culbertson has been helping the Sanfords with their marriage after first lady Jenny Sanford learned in January that the governor had been having an affair with a 41-year-old Argentine woman, Maria Belen Chapur.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said Wednesday he has no response to the information in the logs.

“We have a 6½-year policy of not discussing the specifics of the governor’s security detail,” Sawyer said.

He also said the proportion of Sanford’s unescorted travel reflects the number of trips, not the amount of time the governor was without security.

The higher number of trips on May 11 might be explained, Sawyer said, by a gubernatorial news conference on that day about Sanford’s fight to reject $700 million in federal stimulus funds.

The 165 pages from logs kept at the mansion shows handwritten entries about the first family’s comings and goings.

An analysis of the records shows Sanford logged 195 comings and goings during the 18-month period. He had security with him 119 times and was unaccompanied 76 times.

The State’s count did not include trips on which Sanford was accompanied by his wife or any of their four sons. The family’s code names in the log range from G2 for the first lady to G6 for the youngest of the boys.

The log sheets are kept by security staffers on clipboards at mansion gates. They have been maintained since the administration of Gov. Carroll Campbell, said Mark Keel, the state’s public safety director.

Keel’s agency, along with the State Law Enforcement Division and the Department of Natural Resources, is responsible for protecting the governor.

State law does not require the governor to accept a security detail, and each governor chooses how much protection he wants.

Sanford has been among the most resistant to personal protection in recent administrations, sources familiar with gubernatorial security have said.

Many of Sanford’s trips from the mansion were to jog or ride a bike. He is a physical fitness buff. Sometimes he drove off in his personal vehicle, other times in a black Suburban owned by SLED, which made national news when it was found at Columbia’s airport while Sanford’s whereabouts were unknown.

Most entries do not show why he left. They merely record his departures and arrivals and reflect he was gone from a few minutes to up to four hours.

The entry for June 18, the day he left to see Chapur in Buenos Aires, shows he left the mansion at 7:49 a.m. and came back at 11:24 a.m. He left for the airport in the Suburban at 1:45 p.m.

That secret plan unraveled after state leaders became alarmed that he could not be reached for four days, and a reporter from The State met him as he arrived June 24 at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

Keel declined to compare Sanford’s travels without security to other S.C. governors’.

But he said his peers in other states have told him they have similar situations there because governors do not want to be viewed as too insulated from voters.

Keel said he agrees with SLED director Reggie Lloyd’s call for a new law that requires governors to accept security protection.

“We all worry about it,” Keel said. “Everything’s great unless we have an incident.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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