Senator Bob Packwood last night bowed to the inevitable and resigned, thus sparing the institution which the Oregon Republican has served for 27 years at best a bruising floor vote on whether to expel him, at worst potentially devastating public hearings into the allegations of sexual and official misconduct against him.
He announced his decision on the Senate floor. "It is my duty, the honourable thing to do for the country, for the Senate," he said, almost in tears. "I will resign and leave this institution, not with malice but with love.''
Thus ends the saga of a career destroyed by disclosures of sexual harassment of two dozen women - many his campaign and office employees - stretching back to the 1960s. Mr Packwood's fate was sealed by his hapless efforts to stage a cover-up, doctoring sections of his private diaries in an attempt to conceal the truth.
The affair proper began in 1992, after his re-election to a fifth term, as allegations had already circulated of his sexual misbehaviour. For almost three years his case meandered through the Senate. But Mr Packwood's evasions and manoeuvrings finally wore out the patience of his colleagues. This summer the Senate voted 52-48 not to hold secret hearings. Then, after two more women came forward with claims of harassment, he demanded public hearings "to confront my accusers head-on''.
The Senate Ethics Committee, which previously had split 3-3 on party lines, voted unanimously to expel Mr Packwood - the most severe sanction it can impose. Not since the Civil War has a senator been forcibly evicted. Yesterday the ranking Republican and Democrat alike on the committee denounced Mr Packwood in astonishingly harsh terms. He was guilty of "habitual, blatantly aggressive sexual advances" said Mitch McConnell, a fellow Republican and chairman of the ethics panel. Earlier Mr Packwood had denounced the vote to expel him as "outrageous" but after Mr McConnell's words he plainly realised he had no chance.