Wandering SC governor admits straying in Argentina
COLUMBIA, S.C. – After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he was having an affair. Wiping away tears, he apologized to his family and gave up a national Republican Party post, but was silent on whether he would resign.
“I’ve been unfaithful to my wife,” he said in a news conference in which the 49-year-old governor ruminated on God’s law, moral absolutes and following one’s heart. He said he spent the last five days “crying in Argentina.” Sanford, who in recent months had been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012, said he would resign as head of the Republican Governors Association.
By leaving the country without formally transferring power, critics said he neglected his gubernatorial authority and put the state at risk. It wasn’t clear how his staff could reach him in an emergency.
At least one state lawmaker called for his resignation. As a congressman, Sanford voted in favor of three of four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, citing the need for “moral legitimacy.”
The affair is now over, Sanford said, describing the woman who lives in Argentina as a “dear, dear friend” who he has known for about eight years and been romantically involved with for about a year. He said he has seen her three times since the affair began, and wife found out about it five months ago. A newspaper published steamy e-mails between Sanford and the woman. He did not identify her.
“What I did was wrong. Period,” he said. His family did not attend the news conference, and his wife Jenny Sanford said she asked the governor to leave and stop speaking to her two weeks ago. The governor said he wants to reconcile, and his wife’s statement said her husband has earned a chance to resurrect their marriage. “This trial separation was agreed to with the goal of ultimately strengthening our marriage,” she said.
Sanford denied instructing his staff to cover up his affair, but acknowledged that he told them he thought he would be hiking on the Appalachian Trail and never corrected that impression after leaving for South America.
“I let them down by creating a fiction with regard to where I was going,” Sanford said. “I said that was the original possibility. Again, this is my fault in … shrouding this larger trip.”
Questions about Sanford’s whereabouts arose early this week. For two days after reporters started asking questions, his office had said he had gone hiking on the trail.
Cornered at the Atlanta airport by a reporter from The State newspaper, Sanford revealed Wednesday morning that he had gone to Argentina for a seven-day trip.
When news first broke about his mysterious disappearance, Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press she did not know where her husband had gone for the Father’s Day weekend.
Sanford emerged Wednesday afternoon at a news conference, where he mused openly of his love of hiking and how he used to guide trips along the Appalachian Trail, and eventually tearfully apologized to his wife, his staff and his friends — but without yet saying what he was apologizing for.
“I hurt a lot of different folks,” he said, occasionally choking up throughout the news conference that lasted about 20 minutes.
With those watching still wondering what he was admitting, Sanford said: “The odyssey that we’re all on in life is with regard to heart.”
Excerpts of e-mail exchanges between the governor and his mistress were published online Wednesday by The State. The governor’s office wouldn’t discuss the e-mails with The Associated Press, but told The State it wouldn’t dispute the authenticity of the messages.
One from the governor read: “I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light — but hey, that would be going into sexual details.”
Several residents said they were disappointed in Sanford.
“He shouldn’t have lied to us. He should have been up straight,” said college student Gerald Walker, 19, in downtown Columbia. “It’s very embarrassing for someone in a leadership role that we are supposed to respect, especially me being a young guy.”