“I have been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with what started out as a dear, dear friend from Argentina,” Sanford said in a rambling and often emotional news conference at the state capital in Columbia.
“I’m a bottom line kind of guy I’m just gonna lay it out. It’s gonna hurt and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” said Sanford, often touted as a potential 2012 presidential hopeful.
Sanford apologized to his wife, Jenny, and his children. “To Jenny, anybody who has observed her over the last 40 years of my life knows how closely she has stood by my side in campaign, after campaign, after campaign,” he said.
“I’ve let down a lot of people, and that’s the bottom line,” he said.
Sanford said his family did know about the affair before his trip to Argentina, and that he had spoken with his father in law about the situation
Asked if he and his wife had separated, Sanford responded, “I don’t know how you want to define that. She’s there, I’m here.”
“What I did was wrong, period,” he said. “I spent the last five days crying in Argentina.”
The governor said that his staff did not deserve blame for giving misleading statements about his whereabouts to the press - first that he was off writing and then that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
"I apologize to my staff," Sanford said in a statement released after the 2 p.m. news conference. "I misled them about my whereabouts, and as a result the people of South Carolina believed something that wasn't true. I want to make absolutely clear that over the past two days at no time did anyone on my staff intentionally relay false information to other state officials or the public at large. What they've said over the past two days they believed to be true, and I'm sorry to them for putting them in this position."
Soon after the press conference ended, the RGA announced that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour - another potential 2012 candidate for the GOP - would be stepping in to fill Sanford’s previous role as chairman.
“The news revealed today hurts all of us who have gotten to know Governor Sanford over the years and so it is with regret that the RGA accepted Governor Sanford’s resignation as chairman,” Barbour said in a statement. “While this news is deeply disappointing, I also know it’s important to remain focused on the future and Governor Sanford’s resignation allows him and us to do just that.”
Sanford's announcement was the latest twist in a story that began as a mystery but now has turned into a fiasco for Sanford, whose staff provided a series of increasingly confusing cover stories when his whereabouts became the subject of global news coverage.
“I don’t know how this thing got blown out of proportion,” the governor told The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C., after he landed at the Atlanta airport Wednesday morning.
Sanford, a conservative Republican who had a promising future in national politics, is now not only the butt of jokes but has serious questions to answer about the bizarre series of events.
Some of Sanford’s critics attacked the governor for making no arrangements for executive decisions in his absence, such as mobilizing the National Guard in case of catastrophe or advocating for the state with Washington if an emergency struck the coast.
Journalists covering the story had nearly universal doubts about the narrative put out by his office. The trail on the governor went cold at the Atlanta airport, which is not a ogical place to go to start hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The State said in a story posted around 8:30 a.m. that Sanford had arrived Wednesday morning at Atlanta’s Hartsville-Jackson International Airport after what he says was an extended visit to Buenos Aires.
When the story first broke Monday, both Sanford’s staff and his wife, Jenny, said the governor had taken leave to do some writing and needed to get some time “to get away from the kids” after the conclusion of a contentious legislative session.
Then on Monday night, Sanford’s staff sought to clear up the matter by offering a plausible explanation for why he might be out of contact with his office — the governor was hiking the Appalachian Trail. But his office declined to state his location on the approximately 2,175-mile trail.
As it turns out, Sanford explained Wednesday that he decided to do “something exotic” and take an extended trip to Buenos Aires.
Asked by The State why his staff and wife said he was on the Appalachian Trail, Sanford responded “I don’t know.” The governor added that “in fairness to his staff” he told them that he might go hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
Since Monday, the story has been driven by some of Sanford’s harshest critics in the state, including Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts and Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.
Asked for his response Thursday on MSNBC to the news that Sanford had been in Argentina and not hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Knotts said, “Coverup, coverup. Lies, lies, lies. His staff lied — they didn't know where he was. I don't believe a word that comes out of that office.”