In explaining his absence, two critical questions were left unanswered: Why would Sanford have been near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Thursday, as his cell phone had indicated? It is 80 miles from the Appalachian Trail…
The next day, staff and Sanford allies said the governor’s still-mysterious trip was a harmless excursion. Then, late Tuesday night, Sanford’s SUV was discovered at Columbia’s airport, completely unraveling the story.
The State ran a fine new story on Sunday titled “How Mark Sanford’s affair blew up.”
The State is the South Carolina paper that broke the Sanford story after their reporter, Gina Smith, caught him at Atlanta airport getting off a plane from Argentina. The story outlines how the paper chased the story and includes good notes on why its editors sat on juicy Sanford emails for nearly six months.
But it also includes this intriguing section:
A reporter called a Sanford staffer, saying the paper had e-mails that outlined an affair between the governor and Maria. Unless Sanford would address the issue privately, The State would have no choice but to ask him — with TV crews filming — if he knew Maria at his press conference that afternoon.
The names of two other women tumbled into the newsroom.
Fearful Sanford’s staffers did not get it — that the paper would ask publicly what Sanford’s relationship was with Maria — a State editor called [Tom] Davis, Sanford’s former chief of staff…
The editor told Davis why he thought the e-mails were genuine. They mentioned Coosaw, the Sanford plantation, and Sanford’s love of digging holes; they quoted Bible verses and contained details about Sanford’s known schedule.
And more names of women were coming in over the transom. The total was at three and counting.
Oddly, that’s the last mention the article makes of the three women. Is The State saying that three different names were offered for Sanford’s single Argentinian lover? Or that Sanford was alleged to have had affairs with three separate women? It’s not clear.
The paper hints at the same topic in another piece today (“Spiritual advisor: ‘Darkness’ gripped Sanford'”) about Sanford counselor Warren Culbertson.
In an interview with The Associated Press this weekend… Culbertson said he believed his friend when he said that this was his only marital transgression. He thinks Sanford was simply caught off guard by “the power of darkness.”
Janine Driver, a Washington, D.C.-based body language and deception detection expert, said Sanford showed more emotion when apologizing to Culbertson and longtime political aide Tom Davis than he did when speaking of his wife and four sons. She also believes he lied when a reporter asked if this was the first time he had been unfaithful.
“He answers the question before it’s been asked,” said Driver, who spent 15 years with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “Then what does he do? He drops both his eyes and turns his head AWAY? … That’s what’s called the cold shoulder.
Which makes it sound to us like The State thinks it knows something, doesn’t quite have the goods to say so, and is hoping to flush out other details by dangling hints in its stories.
[Update: South Carolina political blogger Will Folks, a former Sanford spokesman, identifies the two women and says both deny having had affairs with Sanford.
Hat tip: The Digitel.]