Image: Maria Belen Chapur
AP file
In this undated image, taken from C5N TV Channel during coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Maria Belen Chapur speaks during a stand up report.
updated 6/28/2009 8:54:04 PM ET 2009-06-29T00:54:04

A 41-year-old Argentine former reporter acknowledged having a relationship with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, saying Sunday that widely published e-mail correspondence between the two was obtained from her account without permission.

In a brief statement sent to news network C5N of Buenos Aires, Maria Belen Chapur said she will not talk about her private life, which has already been the focus of intense media scrutiny in the United States and Argentina.

"I have decided to send this statement to clear up certain incorrect things that are being reported and put an end to a matter that, as you imagine, is very painful to me, my two children, my entire family and close friends."

Chapur said someone accessed her Hotmail account without permission late last year and leaked e-mail correspondence that described a relationship with Sanford to the South Carolina newspaper The State.

But she denied the "hacker" is a friend of hers — as has been widely reported here — saying he is as much a victim of the media frenzy as she.

People who know Chapur describe her as an elegant, well-mannered, soft-spoken woman who speaks several languages. She is a graduate in political science from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires and the divorced mother of two sons.

Meanwhile, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Sunday that his first thought as the scandal broke about his extramarital affair with an Argentinian woman was to leave office with 18 months to go in his last term. Close spiritual and political associates urged him to instead fight to restore the public's — and his family's — trust.

"Resigning would be the easiest thing to do," he said he thought.

'You've got to listen to your critics'
He's sticking it out and now faces endless questions about the affair, whether he used public money to visit his lover and whether his 20-year marriage will continue. Add to it a barrage of criticism from South Carolina politicians who think the two-term Republican should step down.

"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 exclusively with The Associated Press Sunday morning. He, his wife, Jenny, and sons were in separate cars leaving their beach house on Sullivans Island, headed to his family's farm — where his 83-year-old mother lives — an hour to the south.

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He looked like a man of leisure: faded khaki shorts, T-shirt, bare feet. But behind the casual attire, Sanford appeared contrite and spoke of falling from grace and rebuilding his life.

"I am sorry," he said. "I apologize for letting everyone down."

The governor admitted last week to a yearlong affair with the woman he says he's known for about eight years. He and Jenny say they will try to reconcile. Reconciling with fellow lawmakers and constituents also is ahead of him. 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 the country to see the woman. His staff had told the public he was hiking along the Appalachian Trail before the real story of his mysterious absence came to light.

Has agreed to reimburse the state
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.

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 gotta do my part."

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 wants 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. "In large measure, it depends on how things work and how people see things are working out between the governor and first lady."

Video: Jenny Sanford fights for her family

Working on his marriage
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, where he had dinner with his family Saturday night and where he took a run at sunrise on the sand with one of his sons.

Sanford added that he has been overwhelmed by the support he's received.

"It's only in the hard times you get a sense of how blessed you really are," he said.

Regardless of what politicians in the Statehouse think, his Sullivans Island neighbors are supportive.

During Sunday's interview, several folks stopped to say hello as they strolled by on their morning walks. One man, driving a golf cart festooned with red-white-and-blue decorations, paused to invite Sanford and his family to a Fourth of July celebration.

"How are you?" the man asked Sanford.

"Considering the circumstances, all right," Sanford replied with a wan smile.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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