SC governor admits affair, secret Argentina trip
Associated Press Writers
COLUMBIA, S.C. – After seven days off the grid, Gov. Mark Sanford stood before the clutch of cameras and recorders and promised to explain why he was in Argentina and not hiking the Appalachian Trail, as he’d told staff and they’d told the world.
“I’m a bottom line kind of guy,” Sanford said Wednesday, blinking at the cascade of flashes. “I lay it out. It’s gonna hurt. And we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”
But it would take several more agonizing minutes for Sanford to get to that “bottom line.”
Like watching a hairy man reluctant to pull off a Band-Aid, reporters listened as Sanford – apparently unscripted and untethered by aides – apologized to his wife of 20 years, Jenny, and their four boys. He apologized to his staff for misleading them. He apologized to former chief of staff, Tom Davis, still standing by his side, to his in-laws and to “people of faith.”
But for what?
The former Eagle Scout rambled on about “moral absolutes” and “God’s law” – and how this press conference was “a consequence” of breaching that law.
Finally, after nearly seven minutes of tugging, Sanford ripped off the bandage, exposing a scab that had formed long before he disappeared last Thursday.
“So, the bottom line is this,” he said, choking back tears. “I’ve been unfaithful to my wife.”
Sanford admitted that what had started as an “innocent” e-mail exchange with a “dear, dear friend in Argentina” had developed over the past year into “something much more than that.” He said he had spent the past five days “crying in Argentina.”
“And as a consequence, I hurt her,” said Sanford, who as a congressman had cited “moral legitimacy” in voting in favor of three of four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton for lying about his tryst with Monica Lewinsky. “I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt the boys. … I hurt a lot of different folks. And all I can say is I apologize.”
But while Sanford, 49, said he would resign as head of the Republican Governors Association, spokesman Joel Sawyer said Sanford had “no plans” to resign as governor.
Sanford had been mentioned in recent months as a possible presidential candidate in 2012. Now, at least one state lawmaker called for his resignation.
Sanford said he had known the woman, who was not named, for about eight years. He said his wife learned of the affair about five months ago.
“What I did was wrong. Period,” he said. His family did not attend the news conference, and his wife said she asked governor to leave two weeks ago and stop speaking to her. The governor said he wants to reconcile, and his wife’s statement said her husband has earned a chance to resurrect their marriage.
Sanford did not answer directly whether the relationship with the woman was over.
He did say, “I had, to the people of South Carolina, based on my boys, based on my wife, based on where I was in life, based on where she was in life, a place I couldn’t go and she couldn’t go.”
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’d gone to Argentina for a seven-day trip.
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.”
After learning of his admission, several residents said they were disappointed.
“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.”
Glenn Mitchell, of Columbia, said he felt Sanford’s absence showed a lack of concern for the state.
“He left the state unattended,” said Mitchell, 54, out of work recuperating from surgery. “He just hasn’t been there for us.”
But Warren “Cubby” Culbertson, a longtime friend who said he has been counseling Sanford, said the governor was accepting responsibility for his actions.
“Any man can fall. But it takes a real man to get up and honestly, from his heart, confess that he was wrong,” Culbertson said. “And he’s going to try to change.”
Others were less forgiving. State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, called for Sanford’s resignation.
“There is nothing left to save,” Rutherford said. “There is no reason for him to remain as governor.”
Sanford, a former three-term congressman, was elected governor in 2002. He has more than a year remaining in his second term and is barred by state law from running again.
Sanford was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association this year after he helped raise a record $10.6 million at the group’s 2008 annual dinner to help elect GOP governors. The association said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour would assume the duties as chairman.
The libertarian-leaning Republican was seldom a firebrand. But he was known for salting tales of family life into policy discussions.
He criticized the $787 billion federal stimulus law and efforts by legislators to claim a share of it by saying in tough times a family would sit around the table and find ways to cut spending.
His vocal battle against the Obama administration over the stimulus money won praise from conservative pundits, but ultimately, a state court order required him to take the money.
Jenny Sanford, a millionaire whose family fortune comes from the Skil Corp. power tool company, has been central to Sanford’s political career. She ran his congressional campaigns and his first race for governor. She was an almost daily fixture at senior staff meetings, and often could be seen driving a minivan away from the Statehouse in the mornings.
The two met when Sanford, who has an MBA, was trying his hand on Wall Street. She was working at a brokerage house when he entered a training program.
As governor, Sanford has had seemingly endless run-ins with the GOP-dominated Legislature, once bringing pigs to the House chamber to protest pork barrel spending. He also put a “spending clock” outside his office to show how quickly a proposed budget would spend state money.
Sanford’s announcement came a day after another prominent Republican, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, apologized to his GOP Senate colleagues after revealing last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer and was resigning from the GOP leadership.
Associated Press writer Allen G. Breed contributed to this report.