COLUMBIA, South Carolina - South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford says she may be able to forgive her husband's much-publicized affair with an Argentine woman, but true reconciliation will take more time.
In a statement emailed to reporters Thursday, Jenny Sanford called her husband's behaviour inexcusable but said she may be able to give him another chance. It was her first public remark since Gov. Mark Sanford told The Associated Press that Maria Belen Chapur is his soul mate but he is trying to fall back in love with his wife.
"Forgiveness opens the door for Mark to begin to work privately, humbly and respectfully toward reconciliation with me," she said. "However, to achieve true reconciliation will take time, involve repentance, and will not be easy."
Mark Sanford's spokesman, Joel Sawyer, said the governor will travel Friday to be with his family in Florida, where his in-laws live.
The embattled Republican brushed aside calls for his resignation as state law enforcement officials announced that an investigation found he had used no taxpayer money on trips to New York and Argentina where he saw Chapur.
Jenny Sanford found out about the affair in January, but it didn't become public until Mark Sanford announced it at an emotional news conference last week following a secret trip to Buenos Aires. His wife told The Associated Press that he had repeatedly asked permission to go to Argentina to visit his mistress, but she said no. He went anyway, telling his staff he was planning to hike the Appalachian Trail.
The Sanfords have been separated for several weeks. In her statement Thursday, Jenny Sanford offered no opinion on her husband's political future, saying it is up to South Carolina voters and elected officials to decide whether they can "give Mark another chance."
"Mark showed a lack of judgment in his recent actions as governor," she said. "However, his far more egregious offences were committed against God, the institutions of marriage and family, our boys and me."
Sawyer would not say where the Sanfords will stay in Florida or how long they will be together. He asked the media to respect their privacy.
Several cars with South Carolina license plates were seen Thursday coming in and out of the gated community in Hobe Sound, Florida, where Jenny Sanford's family lives.
Passengers in a few vehicles covered their faces as they passed. A man and a woman who identified themselves as friends of Jenny Sanford stopped and gave the first lady's statement to an AP reporter there, but would not comment further.
As he prepared to fly along with a security detail to meet his family, Sanford also released his personal travel records to the media, though he did not include information from his most recent trip to Argentina. He has maintained he did not use taxpayer money to finance his trysts, which the investigation backed up, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd.
"What he did on his own private time is not illegal," Lloyd said.
Chapur and Sanford met at an open air dance spot in Uruguay in 2001 and their relationship became physical during an economic development trip Sanford took to South America in June 2008. In between, the governor told AP, they exchanged emails but saw each other only once, a coffee date during the Republican National Convention in 2004.
Sanford has already given the state treasurer two personal checks totalling $3,300 to pay for part of the 2008 economic development trip. He saw Chapur four times after that - the most recent trip to Argentina, plus three visits in New York in between. The last of those, with a spiritual adviser, was sanctioned by Jenny Sanford and was supposed to be the last time Mark Sanford and Chapur saw each other.
Sanford arranged one of the meetings in New York - a November tryst in the Hamptons - by adding a three-day stopover in New York to a flight from Ireland to South Carolina. He had been travelling abroad on behalf of the Republican Governor's Association, which he headed from that same month until last week. The records he released show he paid for that part of the trip with his personal credit card.
Sanford also arrived in Manhattan a day before another RGA function in September to visit Chapur; his wife flew in the following day.
The political group learned Thursday that Sanford had used its functions as an opportunity to meet his mistress, said RGA Communications Director Mike Schrimpf.
"Like everyone else, we had absolutely no idea of how he planned to spend his personal time at the conclusion of the trips," he said.
Though law enforcement has cleared Sanford, he is likely to face plenty more fallout from his recent revelations. Publisher Sentinel, a dedicated conservative imprint within Penguin Group (USA) Inc., announced Thursday that it has terminated Sanford's deal to write a book on fiscal conservatism.
But most difficult, his wife said, will be making things right with her and their four sons.
"Actions have consequences and he will be dealing with those consequences for a long while," Jenny Sanford said. "Trust has been broken and will need to be rebuilt. Mark will need to earn back that trust, first and foremost with his family, and also with the people of South Carolina."
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush, Jim Davenport, Jeffrey Collins, Seanna Adcox and Brett J. Blackledge in Columbia and Brian Skoloff in Hobe Sound, Florida, contributed to this report.