COLUMBIA -Gov. Mark Sanford went to Argentina as part of a long-running extra-marital affair with a woman he met eight years ago, he admitted today, but declined to comment on whether he planned to resign over his infidelity.
"The bottom line is that I have been unfaithful to my wife," he told a crowded press conference, choking back tears. When asked if he was alone in Argentina, he answered "obviously not."
He said he and his wife, Jenny, "in a formal sense" are not separated, and that she and her family knew of the affair.
"We've been working through this thing for the last five months," he said.
Jenny Sanford issued a statement this afternoon saying her husband deserved a chance to resurrect the marriage. She also said she asked him to move out two weeks ago because "We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong."
The governor's admission today further expands a bizarre story that changed - and was allowed to stand incorrect - that he had decided to walk the Appalachian Trail after a difficult duel with the Legislature over accepting $700 million in stimulus money.
"I want to apologize to my staff, and to anybody who lives in South Carolina," he said before describing how the relationship grew. The woman is married and the parent of two sons, he said.
"It began on a very casual basis," he said of the woman, whom he met some eight years ago.
"We developed a remarkable friendship over those eight years," he said, adding that about a year ago, the relationship escalated.
"It went into serious overdrive," he said, though he added "I am committed to get my heart right."
He said he will resign his post as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, though walked away from the podium before answering questions about his political future and running the state.
RGA Executive Director Nick Ayers said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has assumed the role of chairman.
"While I am personally disappointed in today's revelation, I also know that it's important for both Governor Sanford and the RGA to move forward as quickly as possible. Therefore we accepted his resignation this afternoon," Ayers said.
South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell issued a statement following Gov. Sanford's press conference.
"Today's revelations are disturbing and shocking. There is no excuse for the unfortunate events that have transpired in recent days. The personal issues must be sorted out by the Sanford family and we hope for the best for them during this most difficult time," he said.
"For five days the governor let his staff deceive the press and the people of South Carolina regarding where he was and what he was doing. The governor's absence has brought to light some issues regarding the chain of command in the absence of the chief executive. It is imperative that the General Assembly deal with this during the next session," Harrell said in the statement.
"More importantly, we must focus on our state's economy and improving education. With our unemployment rate as the third worst in the country, our time has to be devoted to getting unemployed South Carolinians back to work, improving education and growing our state's economy."