Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The mystery of the missing governor

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 4:57 PM

I confess to being fascinated by the ongoing saga of Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who went missing for almost a week -- whereabouts unknown to his staff, the lieutenant governor and even his family. Initial reports out of the South Carolina statehouse that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail turned out to be untrue, when -- six days after his disappearance -- he resurfaced at the Atlanta airport with a tale of taking a spur-of-the-moment trip to ... Buenos Aires, for a drive along the coast. (Where it's winter. And where there are no lengthy coastal roads.) That Sanford is a likely 2012 presidential aspirant just makes it all more interesting.

Talking Points Memo has a definitive timeline of the happenings here, and Sanford is scheduled to have a live press conference to 'splain it all at 1 p.m. CST.

Bizarre -- and, yes, newsworthy as hell in my opinion. But not everyone agrees. Chad Rogers, who runs the Dead Pelican Louisiana news aggregator, disagrees, calling the coverage "media bias." This morning, on his "Rogers Rants" site, he argues:

What happened in [Sanford's] absence? Did S.C. burn to the ground? Was there some major catastrophe that demanded his presence?

Nope.

Then why is this news?

So Mark Sanford disappeared for a while. Frankly, I wish this happened more often with politicians. As we all know, the first rule of the Hippocratic oath is, "Do no harm." A governor has less chance of doing any harm if he's out of state or, even better, out of the country.

It's an interesting argument ... and just for the sake of argument, I decided to recast the Talking Points Memo timeline as fiction, with the analogous Louisiana figures replacing their South Carolina counterparts. Other than the name substitutions, the rest is real. Media bias or newsworthy? And just how weird is this? You make the call under the jump ....

Thursday, June 18

• Governor Jindal takes a State Law Enforcement Division Suburban and leaves the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge.

• A cell phone tower near George Bush International Airport in Houston picks up a signal from Sanford's cell phone, before his phone is apparently turned off for the next few days.

Friday, June 19

• Louisiana law enforcement officials call and send text messages to Jindal's cell phone, with no response.

Saturday, June 20

• The governor's office issues a statement to the police saying there is no reason for concern.

Sunday, June 21

• Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu -- who would take over from Jindal in an emergency -- discovers Jindal's whereabouts are unknown.

Monday, June 22

• c. 2:40 p.m.: The Baton Rouge Advocate publishes an article saying Sanford has been unreachable for four days.

• c. 2:50 p.m.: The governor's office issues this statement: "[Jindal] is taking some time away from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle," and to "work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside."

• c. 3 p.m.: Jindal's wife, Supriya, tells the AP that she does not know where her husband is, but she's not worried. Vacationing with her children at the Jindal's second home, she says "he was writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids."

• c. 3:40 p.m.: Lt. Gov. Landrieu's office tells reporters the governor's office has said it has spoken to Jindal and knows his location.

• c. 5:00 p.m.: Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin denies that the office ever told Landrieu's office they had spoken to Jindal.

• c.10:00 p.m: Landrieu's office issues a statement suggesting it has been misled into believing that the governor's office had spoken with Jindal, when in fact it hadn't. Landrieu says he "cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with [Jindal] for more than four days." A Landrieu spokesman later tells TPMmuckraker that the statement was prompted when Landrieu had asked to speak to the governor on the phone and the governor's office had been unable to make this happen.

• c. 10:05 p.m.: The governor's office issues a statement saying Jindal is hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but gives no specifics about what part of the trail or if the governor is alone.

Tuesday, June 23

• c. 9:40 a.m: The governor's office issues a statement saying Jindal has called the office and is "taken aback" by the reaction to his disappearance. The statement adds that Jindal will return to the office Wednesday.

• c. 4 p.m.: Supriya Jindal tells CNN she still hasn't heard from her husband. She says, "I am being a mom today. I have not heard from my husband. I am taking care of my children."

• c. 5 p.m.: Local news channel WWL reports that a missing state vehicle was tracked down to the George W. Bush Airport in Houston. Sources tell the TV station that Jindal was seen by federal agents boarding a plane there, without security. The governor's office stands by the Appalachian Trail story.

• c.10 p.m.: CNN reports that a black Chevy Suburban believed to be used by Jindal was found at Baton Rouge Regional Airport. "A parking permit for the school attended by Jindal's children is visible on the windshield," said the report.

Wednesday, June 24

• Early morning: Jindal arrives at Bush International Airport in Houston on a flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he says he has been for the last few days. He tells a reporter from The Advocate that he considered hiking the Appalachian Trail, but decided he "wanted to do something exotic" instead. Jindal says he went alone, and that he spent time driving along the coast. He also says he changed his return itinerary to fly in to Houston, not Baton Rouge, in order to avoid the media.

• c. 10:30a.m.: Jindal's office announces a 2 p.m. press conference.

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