(CN) – A state House panel considering whether to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford has voted to expand its inquiry into a 2008 trade trip to Brazil, during which the governor made a detour to see his Argentine mistress. The seven-member House judiciary subcommittee is reviewing Sanford’s use of state aircraft and campaign funds, and considering the merit of 37 civil charges brought by the state Ethics Commission.
The House judiciary subcommittee held its second hearing on the matter Tuesday.
During the hearing, Sanford attorneys Butch Bowers and Kevin Hall argued that every trip being questioned could fall under the definition of official business; that the governor received no economic benefit from the flights; and that even if Sanford is found guilty of the charges against him, none rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
But members of the panel were skeptical about some of the trips, including a 2006 flight the Sanford family took from a National Governor’s Association meeting in West Virginia to a family vacation in Georgia.
Asked whether Sanford had committed misconduct in arranging the flight or had merely done a “seriously stupid” thing, Hall accused the questioner, state Rep. Garry Smith, of splitting hairs and parsing interpretations of the conduct.
The panel also bore in on Sanford’s use of state aircraft to attend a book-signing in Mount Pleasant and a birthday party for a campaign contributor in another part of the state on the same day.
Bowers said both events were for companies that hire state residents, and could be considered part of the governor’s economic development duties.
But Argentina and the governor’s 5-day disappearance in June to visit his mistress were never far from the panel member’s minds.
The legislators have asked the State Law Enforcement Division and Sanford’s staff to provide more information about how they tried to contact him during his absence, how and when they finally reached him, and when they learned where he was.
Joel Sawyer, a longtime Sanford spokesman, who has since left the governor’s office, told reporters and others at the time that Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
As for the 2006 trip, Sanford already has acknowledged that he was wrong to meet with his mistress during that trip. He reimbursed the state $3,300 for airfare to Buenos Aires and expenses.
The legislative panel is scheduled to meet Thursday to take a closer look at Sanford’s use of campaign funds and his June disappearance.