06/24/2009 at 07:50 PM EDT
Days after his staff announced he was hiking in the Appalachian Trail, an emotional South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday he was actually in Buenos Aires and apologized for having an extramarital affair.
"I've been unfaithful to my wife," the governor, his voice choking at times, said at a news conference in Columbia. "I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina."
Sanford, a 49-year-old conservative Republican thought to be a possible presidential candidate in 2012, said he began a "remarkable friendship" with the woman eight years ago but "over this last year it developed into something much more than that."
"First and foremost, I apologize to my wife and my four boys," Sanford said in a statement. He also apologized to his staff for misleading them about his whereabouts. "I want to make absolutely clear that over the past two days at no time did anyone on my staff intentionally relay false information to state officials or the public at large."
Asked by reporters if he was trying to reconcile with his wife, Jenny, the governor – who is resigning as head of the Republican Governors Association – replied, "I am, yeah."
"What we're trying to do is work through something that we've been working through for a number of months now," he said, adding that his wife discovered the affair five months ago.