To the intense relief of the Democratic Party, Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned yesterday, ending a lurid "sexting" scandal that had turned him into a national laughing stock and a distraction that was damaging his party's hopes of making up lost ground to Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Mr Weiner formally announced his decision after a fortnight of intense pressure from top Democrats. He had also discussed his ever more untenable position with his wife Huma Abedin, a close aide of Hillary Clinton, who had just returned with the Secretary of State from an official visit to Africa. The occasion was as tacky as the rest of the affair: a rather maudlin four minute-long statement by the departing politician, on occasion almost drowned out by lewd heckling.
The final straw may have been the disclosure of raunchy email correspondence between the Congressman and Ginger Lee, a nightclub dancer and former porn actress, in which he sent photos inviting Ms Lee to admire his private parts, complaining that "you aren't giving my package due credit".
On Wednesday afternoon, at another press conference, she claimed that Mr Weiner had called her on 2 June, a few days after the scandal became public, telling her to lie about the emails and instructing her on how to handle questions from the media.
Even before that however, he had been cut loose by his colleagues. Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill had disowned him, a House ethics investigation was set to begin, and President Obama declared that, if he were in Mr Weiner's position, he would resign.
Generally regarded as talented but arrogant, the brash and combative New York Congressman appears to have had few friends. More important, however, the timing of his disgrace was a disaster for the party, just as Democrats were profiting from unpopular Republican plans to privatise Medicare, the healthcare programme for the elderly.
Instead, the Medicare controversy was forgotten as Mr Weiner's plight became the top topic on the political news and gossip circuit. It was also rich fodder for jokes on talk shows – not least because his surname is the schoolboy slang word here for the male sex organ. The proceedings acquired a poignant dimension when it emerged Ms Abedin was expecting the couple's child.
Until yesterday he seemed determined to ride out the storm, announcing he would take a two-week absence from his job, and seek psychiatric treatment for his problems. Alas, each attempt to hold the line was overwhelmed by new revelations, some of them confirming what had previously been denied.
The affair first hit the headlines three weeks ago, after Mr Weiner mistakenly posted on Twitter a close-up of himself in underpants. Initially he claimed his account had been hacked, only for a right-wing website to reveal he had corresponded with several women. He confessed, but insisted he had never engaged in physical adultery, at which point a new photo emerged, this one X-rated.
Mr Weiner's close connections with the Clintons hit some especially raw nerves for Democrats. Bill Clinton officiated at the marriage of Mr Weiner, a Jew, to his Muslim wife, and the Congressman reportedly called the former president to offer an apology for causing such turmoil – prompting one TV host to remark: "What's he got to apologise for? Breach of copyright?"Reuse content