S. Carolina governor says there's more to the story
BY TAMARA LUSH AND EVAN BERLAND Associated Press
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
7/01/09 at 4:21 AM
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford declared his Argentine mistress his soul mate Tuesday but said he is committed to reconciling with his wife in hopes of saving his family and what is left of his political career.
Sanford, who also admitted meeting his lover more times than he had previously claimed, told The Associated Press in emotional interviews that he "crossed the line" with a handful of other women during 20 years of marriage.
But he said he never went as far as he did with Maria Belen Chapur, the woman at the center of the scandal that has derailed his once-promising political future.
Even with the latest revelations, Sanford maintains he is fit to govern and has no plans to resign. And he insisted his relationship with Chapur, whom he met at an open air dance spot in Uruguay eight years ago, was more than just sex.
"This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story," Sanford said. "A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."
During more than three hours of interviews over two days at his Statehouse office, Sanford said he is trying to fall back in love with his wife even as he grapples with his deep feelings for Chapur.
Sanford detailed more encounters with his mistress than he had disclosed during a rambling, emotional press conference last week. The new revelations Tuesday led the state attorney general to launch an investigation of his travels, and some are calling for him to step down.
Among the encounters was what he described as a farewell meeting in New York this past winter, chaperoned by a spiritual adviser and sanctioned by his wife soon after she found out about the affair.
But he saw Chapur again, this time over Father's Day weekend and after his wife expressly told him not to, leaving the country without telling his staff and instead leading them to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
By the time he returned to a puzzled public, staff and family, his public image and emotional state had unraveled. He admitted the affair at a press conference televised nationally.
Sanford told the AP he saw Chapur five times over the past year, including two romantic, multinight stays with her in New York — one in Manhattan, one in the Hamptons, both paid for in cash so no one would know — before they met there again intending to break up.
He said he saw her two other times before that, including their first meeting.
"There was some kind of connection from the very beginning," he said, though neither that encounter nor a 2004 coffee date in New York during the Republican National Convention were romantic.
Their relationship turned physical, he said, during a government trip to Brazil and Argentina in June 2008, and when he returned the e-mails they had exchanged for years began to reflect their anguish over what they had done.
He has said he will reimburse the state an undetermined amount of the more-than $8,000 in taxpayer money spent on him on the trip, and he insists no public money was used for any other meetings with her.
He and wife, Jenny, parents of four sons, say they are trying to reconcile their marriage but have not been sharing the same house for several weeks. Jenny Sanford found out about the relationship in January when she discovered a letter the governor had written to his mistress. She did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
In early 2009, after Jenny Sanford discovered the affair, the couple went into counseling.
She has told AP that he asked her for permission several times to visit the mistress and she refused.
He acknowledged that he had casual encounters with other women while he was married but before he met Chapur.
"What I would say is that I've never had sex with another woman...." Sanford said, declining to discuss details.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford talks in an interview in his Columbia, S.C., Statehouse office Tuesday about his relationship with an Argentine woman. Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press