COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Mark Sanford declared his Argentine mistress his soul mate Tuesday but said he was committed to reconciling with his wife in hopes of saving his family and what was left of his political career.
Sanford, who also admitted meeting his lover more times than he had previously claimed, said in emotional interviews that he had "crossed lines" with other women during 20 years of marriage.
But he said he never went as far as he did with Maria Belen Chapur, the woman at the center of the scandal that has derailed his once-promising political future.
Even with the latest revelations, Sanford maintains he is fit to govern and has no plans to resign. And he said that his relationship with Chapur, whom he met at an open-air dance spot in Uruguay eight years ago, was about 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."
During more than three hours of interviews over two days at his statehouse office, Sanford said he was trying to fall back in love with his wife even as he grappled with his feelings for Chapur.
Sanford detailed more encounters with his mistress than he had disclosed during a rambling news conference last week. The new revelations led the state attorney general to launch an investigation of his travels, and some lawmakers and voters are calling for him to step down.
Late Tuesday, Sanford delivered a personal check for nearly $3,000 to South Carolina, intended to reimburse the state for a 2008 state-funded trip to Argentina during which he visited Chapur. He said no public money was used for any other meetings with her. The Argentine trip, a stop during a South American economic mission, reportedly cost more than $8,000. He did not say why he didn't reimburse the full amount.
Among the additional encounters was what Sanford described as a farewell meeting in New York last winter, chaperoned by a spiritual advisor 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 leading aides 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 last week's news conference, which was televised nationally.
Sanford said he saw Chapur five times over the last 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 there again, intending to break 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 encounter eight years ago nor a 2004 coffee date in New York during the Republican National Convention were romantic.
Their relationship turned physical, he said, during the economic trip to Brazil and Argentina in June 2008.
Sanford and his wife, Jenny, parents of four sons, said they were trying to reconcile but had 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 Chapur. The first lady did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
The governor acknowledged that he had casual encounters with other women while he was married, before he met Chapur, on 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 not like his relationship with Chapur.