COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, already struggling to salvage his family and his political career after admission of a scandalous affair, added explosive details yesterday, including more visits with the mistress he calls his "soul mate" and additional women in his past.
The once-promising presidential prospect said he was committed to reconciling with his wife, but professed to the Associated Press his continued love for the Argentine woman at the center of the firestorm that gutted his political future.
In emotional interviews with the AP over two days, he said he would die "knowing that I had met my soul mate." He also said he had "crossed the lines" with a handful of other women during 20 years of marriage, but not as far as he did with his mistress.
Sanford insisted his relationship with Maria Belen 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," he said. "A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."
Even with the latest revelations, Sanford says he is fit to govern and has no plans to resign. He said he is trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny, even as he grapples with deep feelings for Chapur. "I owe it too much to my boys and to the last 20 years with Jenny to not try this larger walk of faith," he said.
Sanford, at times crying and unabashedly emotional, acknowledged that he had casual encounters with other women while he was married but before he met Chapur. They took place during trips outside the country to "blow off steam" with male friends.
"What I would say is that I've never had sex with another woman. Have I done stupid? I have. You know, you meet someone. You dance with them. You go to a place where you probably shouldn't have gone," Sanford said. But he said those encounters were nothing like his relationship with Chapur. "I let my guard down in all senses of the word without ever crossing the line that I crossed with this situation," he said
Sanford told of his visits with Chapur, including an encounter that he described as a failed attempt at a farewell meeting in New York in the 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.
Sanford said earlier he had had only four meetings with Chapur. But he told the AP he saw Chapur five times over the last year, including two romantic, multi-night stays with her in New York before they met in the city again with the intention of breaking up. He said he saw her two other times before that, including their first meeting.
Their relationship turned physical, he said, during a government trip to Brazil and Argentina in June 2008, and when he returned, the e-mails that had started years earlier began to reflect anguish. "Now I am frightened," he told AP, describing his state of mind at the time. . . . We gotta put the genie back in the bottle."
The revelations yesterday about Sanford's meetings with Chapur led the state attorney general to launch an investigation into his travels. Sanford delivered a personal check late yesterday for nearly $3,000 to reimburse the state for a 2008 state-funded trip to Argentina where he visited Chapur.
Sanford and his wife say they are trying to reconcile but have not been sharing the same house for several weeks. Jenny Sanford did not return messages seeking comment yesterday.