SULLIVANS ISLAND - Gov. Mark Sanford says he's not quitting - even though he considered it - despite intense scrutiny and criticism over his admitted affair with a woman from Argentina.
That woman, 41-year-old former television reporter Maria Belen Chapur, acknowledged Sunday that she had a relationship with Sanford and that the matter has been "very painful to me, my two children, my entire family and close friends."
Sanford is scheduled to chair a state budget board Monday, which would be his second public meeting as governor after a state cabinet gathering Friday that drew live national television coverage and where he apologized to fellow state leaders.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Sanford said Sunday he thought about stepping down and away from the public eye to rebuild his life. That was until close spiritual and political associates urged him to instead fight to restore people's trust and finish out the 18 months left in his term.
"Resigning would be the easiest thing to do," he said.
He's facing endless questions about the affair, including whether he used public money to visit his lover and if his 20-year marriage will survive. Add to it a barrage of criticism from South Carolina politicians who think the two-term Republican should resign.
"Part of walking humbly is you've got to listen to your critics out there," the 49-year-old Sanford said. "And all of us will have critics, and the higher you go, I suppose, the more critics you have."
Sanford spoke outside his family's beach house on Sullivans Island. He, his wife, Jenny, and four sons were in separate cars, headed to his family's farm - where his 83-year-old mother lives - in Beaufort, an hour south.
"I am sorry," he said. "I apologize for letting everyone down."
When Sanford returned to South Carolina last week after spending several days in Argentina and out of touch with his staff, he admitted to a yearlong affair with the woman he has known for about eight years. He did not identify her.
Chapur, a divorced mother of two sons, said in a statement to news network C5n of Buenos Aires that she would not talk about her private life, which has already been the focus of intense media scrutiny in the U.S. and Argentina.
The graduate in political science from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires said that e-mails from her relationship with Stanford were leaked to a South Carolina newspaper after someone accessed her Hotmail account without permission late last year. The State newspaper did not publish the steamy e-mails until last week.
"I have decided to send this statement to clear up certain incorrect things that are being reported, and put an end to a matter," Chapur said in the statement addressed to anchor Eduardo Feinman, who read it on camera. Feinman was Chapur's editor when she worked briefly as a television reporter in 2001.
Chapur said she would make no more statements, leaving the public face of the scandal to be Sanford's slow and surely painful return to work as governor.
Some lawmakers want his resignation because he secretly visited his mistress during a state-funded 2008 trip, and because he was out of touch with his staff during his recent weeklong visit to Argentina to see her. His staff had told the public he was hiking the Appalachian Trail before the real story of his mysterious absence became known.
Sanford has agreed to reimburse the state for some of the more than $8,000 in taxpayer money spent on the Argentina leg of the economic development trip to South America last year. On Sunday, he repeatedly said he never used public money to see the woman.
The governor's efforts to stay in office appear, in the minds of some lawmakers, to hinge in part on his ability to salvage his marriage. While several critics want a criminal probe and others want him to step down, reconciling with the first lady does have sway among legislators.
"That's almost become a proxy for how some are looking at this. They're looking at Jenny," said state Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican and former Sanford chief of staff.
When it comes to his critics - most notably Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts - and their calls for him to step down, Sanford said he understands where they are coming from.
"I don't begrudge the Jakie Knottses of the world," Sanford said. "He's going to do what he's going to do. I got to do my part."
As far as his marriage, Sanford said he and his wife are working on it.
"If there wasn't healing going on, I wouldn't be here," he said, pointing to his beach house.
Associated Press Writer Jim Davenport in Columbia and Eduardo Gallardo in Buenos Aries, Argentina, contributed to this report.
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