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S.C. Gov. Sanford admits to other women in his past, calls mistress his 'soul mate'

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, struggling to salvage his family and his political career after admission of a scandalous affair, added explosive details Tuesday, including more visits with the mistress he calls his "soul mate" and additional women in his past.

Sanford said he is committed to reconciling with his wife, but professed his continued love for the Argentine woman at the center of the firestorm that gutted his rock star status as top fundraiser in the Republican Party.

In emotional, sometimes teary, interviews with the Associated Press over two days, he said he would die "knowing that I had met my soul mate."

Sanford, 49, also said that he "crossed the lines" with a handful of other women during 20 years of marriage, but not as far as he did with his mistress.

"There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn't have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line. I didn't cross the sex line," he said.

Sanford insisted his relationship with Maria Belen Chapur, 41, whom he met at a 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."

Even with the latest revelations, Sanford maintains he is fit to govern and has no plans to resign.

"I've been able to do my job and in fact excel at it," Sanford said, while acknowledging he is a spectator at his "own political funeral."

Sanford said he is trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny, even as he grapples with his 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 detailed more encounters with his mistress than he had disclosed during a rambling, emotional news conference last week. The new revelations Tuesday led the state attorney general to launch an investigation of Sanford's travels, and some legislators to repeat calls for him to step down.

He delivered a personal check late Tuesday for nearly $3,000 to reimburse the state for a 2008 state-funded trip to Argentina where he visited Chapur, and he insists no public money was used for any other meetings with her.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who would chair any forced ouster effort of the governor by the Republican-controlled Legislature, said it's premature to heed calls from those in his own party to remove Sanford.

"I want to see what the investigation finds before I'm willing to discuss that topic," said Harrell, a Charleston Republican.

Sanford is well known around the capital for his love of charts and graphs. The three-term U.S. congressman and two-term governor describes himself as "methodical" and "left-brained."

But he also admits that he kept his emotions "in a box" and that once a year, he and his guy friends would go on a trip to "let steam out of the box."

At home, the governor avoided going to bars and clubs, rigidly "avoiding even the appearance of evil." But during these trips — mainly overseas adventures to exotic locales — he would have casual encounters with women.

On some of those trips, before he met Chapur, Sanford said he "crossed the lines" with a handful of women.

In January 2001, Sanford took another trip with a buddy, this time to Punta del Este, an exclusive seaside resort in Uruguay. He described going to a club on a "windswept beach" and seeing two women at the edge of the dance floor. One of the women was Chapur; he said he approached her and they began talking and eventually exchanged e-mail addresses.

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 in the city again with the intention of breaking 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 first 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 that had started years earlier began to reflect anguish over what they had done.

Just before Christmas, a frantic Chapur called Sanford: Someone had hacked into her e-mail account and discovered their missives. Politically, Sanford was at the top of his game: He had been elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association and there was talk of him running for president in 2012.

About a month later, Jenny Sanford, his wife of 20 years, discovered one of his letters to Chapur.

"She was visibly shaken," Sanford said.

The couple began Christian couples counseling. One friend suggested that Sanford needed to break it off quickly.

But Sanford couldn't do it.

"Rightly or wrongly, this person had come to be a dear friend," he said.

He asked his wife for permission to say goodbye to Chapur face to face. She refused, but then relented when a trusted spiritual adviser agreed to act as chaperone for a meeting between Sanford and Chapur.

Sanford, his spiritual mentor and Chapur met in New York in early February. They attended a church service and went to dinner. "Plenty of tears," is how Sanford described the goodbye.

In the following months, Sanford threw himself into work.

He was the leading voice criticizing the various bailout and stimulus plans as pork-laden boondoggles. In March, Sanford tried to reject $700 million in stimulus money.

All that time, Sanford was still secretly corresponding with Chapur.

On June 18, the legislative session over, Sanford slipped the shackles of public life and flew to Argentina without telling anyone. He saw Chapur again 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.

He and Jenny say they are trying to reconcile their marriage but have not been sharing the same house for several weeks.

S.C. Gov. Sanford admits to other women in his past, calls mistress his 'soul mate' 06/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 6:29am]
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