SULLIVAN'S ISLAND — South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford sat in her oceanfront living room Friday, recalling how her husband repeatedly asked permission to visit his lover in the months after she discovered his affair.
"I said absolutely not. It's one thing to forgive adultery; it's another thing to condone it," Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press during a 20-minute interview at the coastal home where she sought refuge with their four sons. They were her first extended comments on the affair.
She said that when her husband, Gov. Mark Sanford, inexplicably disappeared last week, she hoped he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, as his staff told those who inquired about his absence. That he had dared to go to Argentina to see the other woman left her stunned.
"He was told in no uncertain terms not to see her," she said in a strong, steady voice. "I was hoping he was on the Appalachian Trail. But I was not worried about his safety. I was hoping he was doing some real soul-searching somewhere and devastated to find out it was Argentina. It's tragic."
The Sanfords had separated about two weeks ago. The first lady said her husband told the family that he wanted some time away to work on writing a book and clear his head. "I had every hope he was not going to see her," she said.
"You would think that a father who didn't have contact with his children, if he wanted those children, he would toe the line a little bit," she said.
The governor, who is staying at the official residence in Columbia, returned Wednesday to end days of speculation on his whereabouts, publicly confess his cheating and emotionally apologize.
Jenny Sanford, a Georgetown-educated, former Wall Street vice president, was not with her husband Wednesday during his pained public confession.
Sanford said she discovered her husband's affair early this year after coming across a copy of a letter to the mistress in one of his files in the governor's mansion. He had asked her to find some financial information, she said, not an unusual request considering her heavy involvement in his career.
She would not comment on what was in the letter, except to say "enough to figure out an affair was going on."
She felt "shocked and obviously deeply hurt. I didn't think he had it in him," she said. "It's hard to find out your husband is not who you thought he was."
The first lady said she confronted her husband immediately, and he agreed to end the affair. She said she wasn't sure Friday whether he had done so.
"I guess that's what we will have to see. I believe he has," she said. "But he was down there for five days. I saw him yesterday and he is not staying here. We'll just see what kind of spirit of reconciliation he has himself."
The governor declined to discuss details of the letter and how he handled it with his wife.
"This goes into the personal zone," Sanford said Friday. "I'd simply say that Jenny has been absolutely magnanimous and gracious as a wonderful Christian woman in this process."
Jenny Sanford cried at the end of the interview, and said the couple have been to counseling.
"When I found out in January, we both indicated a willingness to continue working on the marriage, but there's not room for three people in a marriage," she said. "I've done everything in my power possibly to keep him from going to see her and to really make sure she was off the table, including asking him to leave."
About an hour after Jenny Sanford talked of her pain and feelings of betrayal, her husband brushed aside any suggestion he might immediately resign, citing the Bible and the story of David, who continued to lead after sleeping with another man's wife, Bathsheba, having the husband slain, then marrying the widow.
"What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily — fell in very, very significant ways, but then picked up the pieces and built from there," Sanford told members of his Cabinet in a session called so he could apologize to them in person and tell them the business of government must continue.
Some Republican leaders have called for Sanford to resign, and some lawmakers and watchdog groups are pressing for investigations into whether he improperly used state money.
For Jenny Sanford, the focus is the couple's four sons. During her interview, she wept as she displayed the stellar report cards earned by her eldest two sons at their private school in Columbia.
On the coffee table was a collection of devotional books, including a book of commentary on the Bible's Book of Job, the story of a man whose faith God tests to the extreme.
"Parenting is the most important job there is, and what Mark has done has added a serious weight to that job," she said.
Mark Sanford's admitted affair has caused a rift that could cause a key adviser to drop from his circle — first lady Jenny Sanford.
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