COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – South Carolina’s largest daily newspaper received copies of personal emails between Gov. Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress six months ago, but refrained from publishing them until last night because its reporters couldn’t verify their authenticity. One email sent from the governor’s email address praises the woman’s “erotic beauty” and her “ability to give magnificently gentle kisses.”
Throughout the emails, Sanford talks sporadically about his public and private schedule – including a discussion with John McCain’s presidential campaign about his possibly joining the ticket as the vice presidential nominee – and about more mundane matters, such as his enjoyment of Coosaw, his plantation in Beaufort, S.C.
But that there was more to the relationship than friendly patter is quickly evident. In one message sent from Sanford’s account, the writer says, “I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light – but hey, that would be going into sexual details.”
The State newspaper published a preview of the emails on its Web site last night, offering a more extensive sampling in the paper’s print edition this morning.
Copies of the newspaper appeared to be selling briskly Thursday morning on Main Street in Columbia, with several curbside vending machines near the Capitol selling out by mid-morning. The scandal – now described locally as the biggest political scandal in the state’s history – lent a surreal air to the city’s business district, where it was hard to walk very far without overhearing people referring to the scandal.
Two young ministers standing on a corner outside the Richland County Court House laughed, slapped each other on the back and joked about how they have to amend their upcoming Sunday sermons to warn against taking unscheduled trips to Argentina.
Inside the courthouse itself, court employees buzzed about the scandal, trading lines and reactions from Gov. Sanford’s confessional press conference on Wednesday.
Revelation of the emails came within hours of Sanford’s admission that he’d been having an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman for about a year, and that it was the reason behind his recent five-day disappearance.
In publishing the emails, The State redacted the woman’s full name, identifying her only as “Maria,” and also blocked out her email address and home address. The messages, said to be from Sanford’s personal email account, were provided to the newspaper by an anonymous source.
On CNN’s “Larry King Live” last night, State reporter John O’Connor said reporters and editors were unsure of the emails’ authenticity until Sanford’s strange disappearance last week, his admission that he’d traveled to Buenos Aires when confronted by a report at the Atlanta airport yesterday morning, and his subsequent press conference.
The governor’s office declined to discuss the emails today, but has not challenged their authenticity.
Last night, South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford made her first public comments since her husband’s admission of infidelity, releasing a written statement in which she acknowledged she knew of the affair and had asked the governor to move out of their home two weeks ago as a trial separation aimed at “ultimately strengthening our marriage.”
“I would like to start by saying I love my husband and I believe I have put forth every effort possible to be the best wife I can be during our almost 20 years of marriage,” Ms. Sanford wrote. “I have been and remain proud of his accomplishments and his service to this state.”
Sanford said her first reaction upon learning of her husband’s infidelity was to “seek reconciliation through forgiveness and to work diligently to repair our marriage.”
“We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong. I therefore asked my husband to leave two weeks ago … and it was agreed Mark would not contact us.”
She said she kept the separation secret out of respect for her husband’s office and reputation, and in hopes of keeping their children from the glare of unwanted publicity.
She also held open the possibility of reconciliation with the governor, saying, “I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.”