S.C. Gov. Sanford Admits to an Affair
He Was Visiting Woman in Argentina
Thursday, June 25, 2009
It all started innocently, the South Carolina governor said, when he and a woman struck up a conversation eight years ago. She confided in him about being separated from her husband, and Mark Sanford provided comfort, advising her to get back together for the sake of her two sons, and because marriage is sacred. He asked for her e-mail address and they kept in touch, he from the United States and she from Argentina.
Then, about a year ago, came "that whole sparking thing," he said yesterday afternoon at a news conference. The relationship turned romantic and went into "serious overdrive." The couple rendezvoused twice, both times secretly. But the third meeting would not be so discreet.
Sanford (R) disappeared from his state for nearly a week, including Father's Day, infuriating lawmakers in Columbia and leaving behind befuddled staff members who said they thought their boss was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. But he actually had left the governor's mansion in a state-issued SUV and jetted to Buenos Aires, where he spent five days with the woman.
Sanford, 49, a Bible-quoting social conservative and rising star in the Republican Party who harbors presidential ambitions, returned home yesterday after being spotted at the Atlanta airport to face a national television audience for 20 minutes. He offered a rambling and at times tearful apology for his extramarital affair.
"The bottom line is this," he said: "I have been unfaithful to my wife."
After ruminating about the affair with stark frankness, the visibly shaken governor solved a captivating mystery about his whereabouts, cemented his reputation as one of the nation's most eccentric political figures and became the latest prominent politician whose aspirations may have been undone by infidelity.
As Sanford digressed about his boyhood adventures on the Appalachian Trail and airplane trips around the world with just $100 in emergency money, about "God's law" and moral absolutes, people standing behind him in the Capitol Rotunda could be seen smirking. The governor is known for sometimes quirky behavior.
During his six years in Congress, Sanford turned down his housing allowance and slept on a cot in his Capitol Hill office. A frugal governor, he requires his staff to use both sides of a Post-it note and rose to national prominence this year by rejecting federal stimulus funding for his state, drawing the ire of lawmakers there. He even once lampooned "pork" spending in the budget by carrying two pigs onto the floor of the state House chamber. (The pigs, apparently, were not housebroken and made a mess of Sanford's suit and the carpet.)
But yesterday, Sanford stood out for a surprising confession. He said he told his wife, Jenny, of the affair about five months ago. They are effectively separated, with she and their four sons living apart from him at the family house on prestigious Sullivan's Island near Charleston. The Sanfords recently put the property up for sale, reportedly for $3.5 million, his spokesman said, because they wanted to build a "dream home" at the family's plantation in South Carolina's Low Country.
Jenny Sanford, 46, a former Wall Street executive whose grandfather founded a power-saw manufacturing company, did not appear at the news conference and issued a statement saying that she and her husband had agreed to a "trial separation" with the goal of "ultimately strengthening our marriage."
"We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong," she said. "I therefore asked my husband to leave two weeks ago. During this short separation it was agreed that Mark would not contact us."
Sanford resigned yesterday as head of the Republican Governors Association, but did not say whether he would step down as governor before his second four-year term ends in 18 months.