By Tamara Luch and Evan Berland, Associated Press Writers
June 30, 2009, 1 a.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Tuesday that he "crossed lines" with a handful of women other than his mistress _ but never had sex with them.
The governor said he "never crossed the ultimate line" with anyone but Maria Belen Chapur, the Argentine at the center of a scandal that has derailed his once-promising political career.
"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 an emotional interview at his Statehouse office with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Sanford said Chapur is his soul mate but he's trying to fall back in love with his wife.
He said that during the encounters with other women he "let his guard down" with some physical contact but "didn't cross the sex line." He wouldn't go into detail.
Sanford, 49, said the casual encounters happened outside the U.S. while he was married but before he met Chapur, on trips to "blow off steam" with male friends.
Sanford also admitted he saw Chapur more times than previously disclosed, including what was to be a farewell meeting in New York chaperoned by a spiritual adviser soon after his wife found out about the affair.
After that disclosure, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said Tuesday he has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to review all of Sanford's travel records to see if any laws have been broken.
Sanford described five meetings with Chapur over the past year, including two romantic, multi-night stays with her in New York before they met there again intending to break up.
He said he saw her two other times, including their first meeting in 2001 at an open-air dance spot in Uruguay.
"There was some kind of connection from the very beginning," he told The Associated Press, though he said neither that meeting nor a 2004 coffee date in New York during the Republican National Convention were romantic. Sanford had been considered a potential 2012 presidential contender before the scandal broke last week.
His interview was the first disclosure of any liaisons with Chapur in the United States and contradicted a public confession last week during which he admitted to a total of five encounters over their eight-year relationship.
He previously announced he would reimburse the state for money spent during a government trip to Brazil and Argentina in June 2008 when he saw Chapur. It was then, he said, that their relationship became physical, and the e-mails they'd exchanged for years reflected their 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 insists no public money was used for any other meetings with her.
He saw Chapur again in mid-June of this year, visiting Argentina without telling his staff he was going to be out of the country. He instead led them to believe he was hiking on 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 rambling press conference.