South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, already struggling to salvage his family and his political career after admission of a scandalous affair, added explosive details Tuesday, including more visits with the mistress he calls his "soul mate" and other women in his past.
The once-promising presidential prospect said he is committed to reconciling with his wife, but professed to The Associated Press his continued love for the Argentine woman at the center of the firestorm that gutted his political future.
In emotional interviews with the AP over two days, he said he would die "knowing that I had met my soul mate."
Sanford also said that he "crossed lines" with a handful of other women during 20 years of marriage, but not as far as he did with his mistress.
"There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn't have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line," he said.
'More than a simple affair'
Sanford insisted his relationship with Maria Belen Chapur, whom he met at an open air dance spot in Uruguay eight years ago, was more than just sex.
"This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story," Sanford said. "A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."
Even with the latest revelations, Sanford maintains he is fit to govern and has no plans to resign.
"I've been able to do my job and in fact excel at it," Sanford said, while acknowledging he is a spectator at his "own political funeral."
During more than three hours of interviews over two days at his Statehouse office, Sanford said he is trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny, even as he grapples with his deep feelings for Chapur.
"I owe it too much to my boys and to the last 20 years with Jenny to not try this larger walk of faith," he said.
Sanford detailed more encounters with his mistress than he had disclosed during a rambling, emotional press conference last week. The new revelations Tuesday led the state attorney general to launch an investigation of Sanford's travels, and some legislators to repeat calls for him to step down.
Delivered a check to reimburse state
He delivered a personal check late Tuesday for nearly $3,000 to reimburse the state for a 2008 state-funded trip to Argentina where he visited Chapur, and he insists no public money was used for any other meetings with her.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who would chair any forced ouster of the governor by the Republican-controlled Legislature, said it's premature to heed calls from those in his own party to remove Sanford.
"I want to see what the investigation finds before I'm willing to discuss that topic," said Harrell, a Charleston Republican.
Sanford, at times crying and unabashedly emotional, acknowledged in the AP interview that he had casual encounters with other women while he was married but before he met Chapur. They took place during trips outside the country to "blow off steam" with male friends.
"What I would say is that I've never had sex with another woman. Have I done stupid? I have. You know you meet someone. You dance with them. You go to a place where you probably shouldn't have gone," Sanford said, declining to discuss details. But he said those encounters were nothing like his relationship with Chapur.
"If you're a married guy at the end of the day you shouldn't be dancing with somebody else. So anyway, without wandering into that field we'll just say that I let my guard down in all senses of the word without ever crossing the line that I crossed with this situation."
Failed attempt at a farewell
Sanford also detailed more visits with Chapur, including an encounter that he described as a failed attempt at a farewell meeting in New York this past winter, chaperoned by a spiritual adviser and sanctioned by his wife soon after she found out about the affair.
But he saw Chapur again, this time over Father's Day weekend and after his wife expressly told him not to, leaving the country without telling his staff and instead leading them to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
By the time he returned to a puzzled public, staff and family, his public image and emotional state had unraveled. He admitted the affair at a news conference televised nationally, but at the time said there were only four meetings with his mistress.
Sanford told the AP he saw Chapur five times over the past year, including two romantic, multi-night stays with her in New York — one in Manhattan, one in the Hamptons, both paid for in cash so no one would know — before they met in the city again with the intention of breaking up.
He said he saw her two other times before that, including their first meeting.
"There was some kind of connection from the very beginning," he said, though neither that first encounter nor a 2004 coffee date in New York during the Republican National Convention were romantic.
Their relationship turned physical, he said, during a government trip to Brazil and Argentina in June 2008, and when he returned, the e-mails that had started years earlier began to reflect anguish over what they had done.
"Now I am frightened," he told the AP, describing his state of mind at the time. "It was before safe. But now it's not safe. We gotta put the genie back in the bottle."
He has said he will reimburse the state an undetermined amount of the more-than $8,000 in taxpayer money spent on the trip, and he insists no public money was used for any other meetings with her.
Critics calling for his resignation
Critics have charged that Sanford should resign or be impeached because he was unreachable during the latest Argentina trip and that no one was in charge of state government during his secret absence.
In the interview, he said he first became aware that officials were looking for him Monday evening, June 22 — four days after his departure for Argentina — when he checked his cell phone voice mail.
"I was reached ultimately on Monday evening," he said. "I was contacted and called (chief of staff) Scott (English) back that Tuesday morning." Sanford said he then changed his flight to return to South Carolina that evening.
He and Jenny, parents of four sons, say they are trying to reconcile their marriage but have not been sharing the same house for several weeks. Jenny Sanford found out about the relationship in January when she discovered a letter the governor had written to his mistress. She did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday and was not at their coastal home on Sullivans Island.