Sanford Story Takes More Serious Turn

June 22, 2009 7:46 p.m.

Late Monday evening, Gov. Mark Sanford’s office revealed that he is hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

On the face of it, that solves the mystery. But this article from The State, South Carolina’s main newspaper, suggests some more troubling possibilities to the story.

The governor’s spokesman would not disclose whether or not Sanford was hiking alone. And it seems that neither the governor’s office nor state authorities have been able to make contact with the him since he left the governor’s mansion on Thursday. (State Sen. Jake Knotts (R), who’s known as a critic of Sanford, told The State that he first asked the governor’s security chief what was up on Saturday “after he heard reports the governor could not be reached.”)

Assuming this is true, it makes some sense of Sanford’s spokesman’s claim today that his office ‘knew’ where Sanford was (i.e., ‘on the Appalachian Trail‘, which covers a lot of territory which, to be clear, covers most of the eastern United States) but that they had not been in contact with him.

The article does say that sources say Sanford “regularly makes trips without his security detail.” And his spokesman told the paper that, “Before leaving last week, he let staff know his whereabouts and that he’d be difficult to reach.”

But there’s this from an unnamed source …

On previous unescorted trips, Sanford has not been out of all contact – including with his own office – for this long, a source said.

Meanwhile, another unnamed official said there was “no indication Sanford had been harmed.”

This is, to put it mildly, a tricky story to make sense of. We still have the several contradictory explanations that Sanford’s office and family gave out over the course of the day. But if we take the most recent statements basically at face value, the story sounds something like this …

The governor left on Thursday telling staff he was going to go hiking on the Appalachian Trial. He goes on trips sometimes without his security detail — which isn’t terribly surprising. But he’s never been completely out of touch for this long. Then there’s the added detail — also noted earlier today — that this last known whereabouts was near Atlanta …

Sanford’s last known location was near Atlanta late last week. A mobile telephone tower there picked up a signal from his phone, according to a source familiar with the situation.

If the governor were a civilian, I would say that this kind of data on the whereabouts of his cell phone strongly suggested that an active investigation into his whereabouts was underway. But of course, he’s not a civilian. He’s a governor. Possibly the whereabouts of his cell phone are routinely tracked. And if not, the state of South Carolina could probably easily pull those records. Still, the fact that this information is in the mix at least suggests that people in the state government have already made some efforts to track down just where the governor is.

Put it all together and this is starting to sound a lot like the governor is genuinely missing.

He goes hiking, either alone or in a small group. He says he’ll be away and perhaps not in regular contact. But reading between the lines it seems his people did not expect he’d be totally out of contact for several days. There’s some evidence suggesting some efforts may already have been made to track him down. Now it’s the beginning of the next week. And there’s still no word from him.

I don’t think there’s much to be gained through more speculation. And there’s a lot that’s still murky about this. But based on what we’re being told, if Sanford weren’t the governor of a state but the CEO of a local company, this sounds like the point at which people would be starting to worry about if something had happened to him.

Late Update: A number of news outlets have headlines up with some variation of ‘mystery solved’ or ‘governor located’. But all of these stories, when you dig into them, have the same basic facts. Which is that the governor’s spokesman now says he’s off hiking. But they admit they don’t know just where he is on the Appalachian Trail. And that no one has been in touch with him since last Thursday. That seems like a lot less than solved.

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