COLUMBIA — Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford confirmed Sunday he is engaged to the Argentine woman he secretly left the state to visit under the cover story he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Sanford said a statement announcing his engagement provided to CNN is accurate.
“The only comment I’ll stand by is that there was a statement sent to CNN and I stand by its accuracy. I don’t know anything beyond that,” Sanford said Sunday. “I’d love to talk but we’re going to end up in no-man’s land.”
Sanford was a rising Republican political star before he vanished from South Carolina for five days in 2009. Reporters were told he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. But when he returned to South Carolina, the father of four admitted that he was instead in Argentina with Maria Belen Chapur, whom he later called his soul mate.
“I’ve been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual e-mail back and forth in advice on one’s life there and advice here. But here recently, over this last year, it developed into something much more than that,” Sanford said.
The episode ended in divorce from his wife, Jenny, and derailed the political career of a GOP conservative with presidential aspirations. He was governor from 2003-2011.
The affair also prompted impeachment hearings in 2009 after the state ethics commission looked into Sanford’s use of state planes, campaign cash and first-class travel. He ended up paying $74,000 in ethics fines and reimbursed the state for the investigation and for travel and personal expenses.