South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday his unexplained, six-day absence was spent in an extramarital affair with a woman he called a “dear, dear friend” in Buenos Aires.
“I apologize to my wife, Jenny, and my four boys,” Mr. Sanford, who paused several times to wipe his eyes, said from his office in Columbia, S.C. “I’ve let down a lot of people.”
Mr. Sanford, a Republican, called the press conference after disappearing for several days, then reappearing in the Atlanta airport after his staff said the governor was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The governor said he met the woman eight years ago and the relationship turned into a romantic one about a year ago. Mr. Sanford said he has seen the woman three times in the past year.
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Mr. Sanford said his wife has known about the affair for about five months and that they are seeking counseling.
“I spent five days crying in Argentina,” he said.
The governor said he would resign as head of the Republican Governors Association, but did not say he would resign as governor.
“I go back to that simple word of asking for forgiveness,” he said. ”
The press conference was held after a local reporter tracked down Mr. Sanford earlier Wednesday at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where he said he had gone to Buenos Aires.
He told the reporter he had considered hiking the trail, then decided to do something more “exotic” after an intense General Assembly session in which he failed to reject federal stimulus money.
His unexplained absence angered almost everybody because he apparently did not put an emergency plan in place. He said at the press conference that his staffers did not lie to the public, only acted on what he told them.
Mr. Sanford, 49 and the father of four boys, has been South Carolina’s governor since 2003 and until now was considered a potential 2012 presidential candidate.
State Newspaper reporter Gina Smith said she received a tip that Mr. Sanford would return through the Atlanta airport, so she went there and found him.
Miss Smith said Mr. Sanford said he has not hiked the trail since high school and that he had been to Buenos Aires two previous times.
She said Mr. Sanford said he spent some of his time driving along the coast and that he traveled alone. However, Mr. Sanford stopped answering questions when Miss Smith asked whether he stayed in a hotel, saying, “I know where you’re going,” the reporter said.
The governor’s wife, Jenny Sanford, said earlier this week she had not seen her husband since Thursday but was not concerned.
Sanford staffers said late Monday that he went to hike a section of the trail. On Tuesday, they said the governor would cut short his trip and return Wednesday because of all the attention.
Miss Smith said a state-owned vehicle was found at a South Carolina airport, but she did not find one at the Atlanta airport.
Mr. Sanford, a former three-term congressman and an Air Force reservist, said he returned through Atlanta to avoid reporters.