AP: COLUMBIA, S.C. After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he'd secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he'd been having an affair. He apologized to his wife and four sons and said he will resign as head of the Republican Governors Association.
"I've let down a lot of people, that's the bottom line," the 49-year-old governor said at a news conference where he choked up as he ruminated with remarkable frankness on God's law, moral absolutes and following one's heart. His family did not attend.
The woman, who lives in Argentina, has been a "dear, dear friend" for about eight years but, Sanford said, the relationship didn't become romantic until a little over a year ago. He's seen her three times since then, and his wife found out about it five months ago.
He told reporters he spent "the last five days of my life crying in Argentina" and the affair is now over. Sanford, a rumored 2012 presidential candidate, refused to say whether he'll leave office.
"What I did was wrong. Period," he said.
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 Appalachian Trial.
Cornered at the Atlanta airport by a reporter, Sanford revealed Wednesday morning that he'd gone to Argentina for a seven-day trip.
When news first broke about his mysterious disappearance, first lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press she did not know where her husband had gone for the Father's Day weekend.
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.
Sanford, first elected governor in 2002, has more than a year remaining in his second term and is barred by state law from running again.
He emerged Wednesday afternoon at a news conference and it took more than a few minutes into his address before he got to the crux of what had happened. He spoke of his love of hiking and how he used to guide trips along the Appalachian Trail _ and only then tearfully apologized to his wife, his staff and his friends.
"I hurt a lot of different folks," he said, occasionally choking up throughout the news conference that lasted about 20 minutes.
A former three-term congressman, Sanford most recently snared headlines for his unsuccessful fight to turn aside federal stimulus cash for his state's schools. His vocal battle against the Obama administration _ and libertarian, small-government leanings _ won praise from conservative pundits. Ultimately, a state court order required him to take the money.
Sanford was born May 28, 1960, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the eldest of four siblings. He earned a bachelor's degree in business from Furman University in 1983 and a master's of business administration from the University of Virginia in 1988.
After working for a couple of years in the financial world in New York, he returned to South Carolina and said he was shaped by his summers working on the family plantation. He served in the U.S. House for three terms before honoring a term limits pledge and leaving office in 2001.
In 2002, he defeated incumbent Democrat Jim Hodges by 4 percentage points to become governor and won re-election in 2006, beating Democratic state Sen. Tommy Moore.
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.