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ND Lt. Gov. Wrigley admits affair, still mulling run for governor

North Dakota Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley speaks Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, at Bonanzaville west of West Fargo, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 2 / 5
North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and his wife, Kathleen, applaud Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010, during a transition ceremony at the State Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service 3 / 5
North Dakota Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley, right, and Governor Dalrymple, left, at North Dakota State University's Barry Hall in Fargo. File photo by Carrie Snyder / The Forum 4 / 5
Governor Jack Dalrymple, left, and Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley, right, hold a press conference on November 4, 2010 in Fargo. Carrie Snyder / The Forum 5 / 5

BISMARCK – North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley admitted Tuesday to having an extramarital affair after a blogger mentioned the rumored dalliance online, but the Republican and his wife said they are still weighing a run for governor in 2016.

During an emotional interview in their north Bismarck home, Wrigley and his wife Kathleen said nothing has changed about his statement last week that he was considering a gubernatorial run in light of Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s decision not to seek a second four-year term.

“What’s changed today is that a very private matter that we’ve dealt with … has been forced out into the public discussion,” he said.

Related: Democrats say Wrigley affair ‘disappointing’ but causes few ripples

Related: Previous Drew Wrigley coverage

The 49-year-old Republican and former U.S. attorney said he disclosed the affair to his wife early this year, declining to be more specific.

“Many months ago I went to Kathleen and I acknowledged to her that I had been unfaithful,” he said, sitting on a sofa next to her with his right hand clasped over her leg. “That was an intensely difficult time and we turned to our longtime pastor and prayer and also to professional guidance to begin the process of reconstituting the trust that I had damaged.”

Kathleen Wrigley, wearing a necklace engraved with the word “warrior,” choked back tears as she talked about the affair that shook their marriage of 17 years.

“This is the most painful thing,” she said. “I was shocked and probably more hurt than I have ever been, very disappointed. And in working through so many different avenues for hope, at the end of the day, I believe in second chances.”

“I think we have a lot to save,” she added. “Seventeen years of marriage. We have three beautiful children. Our family is worth the work.”

The couple granted a limited number of interviews after blogger Jim Fuglie posted a column Tuesday about the 2016 governor’s race, writing that Drew Wrigley “has gotten himself tangled up in a messy personal situation that probably precludes his nomination by a party looking always for candidates with high moral standards.”

Fuglie, a former executive director of the state Democratic-NPL Party who now authors The Prairie Blog, wrote that the “story of Wrigley’s indiscretions has spread across the state like wildfire” since Dalrymple’s Aug. 24 announcement.

Wrigley would not discuss the timeline or details of the affair or identify the woman, but said he had no professional connections to her and she was not a state employee or elected official.

Wrigley, who was appointed lieutenant governor by Dalrymple in December 2010 when Dalrymple rose to fill the seat vacated by then-Gov. John Hoeven’s election to the U.S. Senate, said he told Dalrymple about the affair “many weeks ago” during the summer, but said he couldn’t recall exactly when.

“We’ve appreciated their empathy and understanding,” he said of Dalrymple and his wife Betsy.

Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said the governor expects Wrigley to stay in his job.

“The lieutenant governor did inform the governor of the situation and he assured the governor that it did not involve a conflict of interest, that a line of authority wasn’t crossed,” Zent said.

Wrigley called it an “intensely personal matter” that “has not and does not bear on my professional responsibilities.”

But whether it bears on his chances of winning the GOP nomination – should he seek it – remains to be seen.

“I know that there’ll be a lot of opinions on that, but at the end of the day, the decision is one that Kathleen and I will make together,” he said, adding, “Whoever’s in that campaign I’m sure will focus on the appropriate issues and what direction is best for the state.”

Wrigley and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem have been mentioned by Republican Party officials as two of the top potential contenders for the GOP nomination for governor. Fargo entrepreneur and philanthropist Doug Burgum also has expressed interest. Republicans will nominate a candidate during their state convention April 1-3 in Fargo.

The race has already received national attention over a possible bid by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who lost her previous bid for governor to now-U.S. Sen. John Hoeven in 2000 and is up for re-election in the Senate in 2018. Heitkamp said last week that she will decide “sooner rather than later” whether she plans to run for governor.

Drew Wrigley said he wasn’t under political pressure to discuss the affair publicly. He said the couple decided months ago that if asked about it, “we were going to respond with integrity, with candor and we were going to move forward.”

“There’s peace in that,” he said.

“There is peace and there is control in that candor,” his wife added.

State GOP chairman Kelly Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, said he’s “been aware of the rumors for a while” and has had conversations with Wrigley. Armstrong said he doesn’t believe it has affected Wrigley’s job, and if he decides to run for governor, he’ll have equal opportunity to make his case to the delegates for their nomination.

“And I hope it’s based on his merit and not on any personal issues,” he said.

A Bismarck native who grew up in Fargo, Wrigley graduated from law school at American University in Washington, D.C., in May 1991. He spent five years as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, where he met his future wife, and returned to Bismarck in 1998.

Wrigley served as executive director of the state Republican Party in 1999 and worked as deputy chief of staff and policy adviser to Hoeven during the early months of his administration in 2000-2001.

President George W. Bush nominated Wrigley in 2001 to become North Dakota’s U.S. attorney. He’s perhaps best known for his successful prosecution of convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. for the kidnapping and murder of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin in November 2003, which resulted in North Dakota’s first death penalty case in nearly a century.

Wrigley stepped down from the U.S. attorney’s office in 2009 to become vice president of Noridian Administrative Services in Fargo. He was appointed lieutenant governor in December 2010 and was elected to his first full four-year term with Dalrymple in 2012.

The couple said they are thankful for the support they’ve received from family and friends and that they hope people will remain respectful of their children’s privacy.

They said they haven’t set a timeline for deciding on whether to run for governor.

“We’re actively making all decisions together,” Drew Wrigley said. “This has been a very, very difficult and painful process.”