He was a moral poster boy for the Republican party, lecturing the party faithful on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values. But Senator David Vitter's righteous reputation unravelled this week when he was linked to a prostitution ring run by a woman known in the US capital as the "DC Madam".
The Louisiana senator's name appeared on the telephone records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 51, who is facing federal charges of running a lucrative brothel in Washington DC.
Mr Vitter, 46, a married father of four, did not deny the allegations that his phone number was one of thousands listed in Palfrey's phone records. Instead he apologised for a "very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible.,"Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counselling," the conservative senator said. "Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way".
Vitter is the first member of Congress to be outed in the sex scandal, the biggest to hit the capital since "Monica-gate" rocked Bill Clinton's presidency, and now everyone is asking what powerful figure might be next on the Madam's list.
Vitter, who once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families," was viewed by many in the Republican Party as a future presidential candidate.
Current republican presidential hopeful Rudolph W. Giuliani had recently appointed the Bible-touting senator as his Southern campaign chairman in the hopes of cultivating a conservative region suspicious of Giuliani's moderate views on abortion and gun control. "Some people disappoint you," a grim-faced Giuliani told journalists hours after the scandal broke.
Earlier this year, two senior Washington political luminaries were hit by revelations that they too had availed of Palfrey's services.
Randall Tobias, a deputy secretary of state who masterminded a Bush administration policy that required recipients of Aids assistance to condemn prostitution, admitted to ABC news that he had called Palfrey to "have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage", but not sex.
A senior Pentagon advisor, Harlan Ullman -- a Washington conservative known for devising the "shock and awe" bombing strategy used in the Iraq war -- found a new infamy all of his own when Palfrey accused him of having called her service. Ullman vehemently denies her accusations.
Federal prosecutors allege that from 1993 to 2006 Ms Palfrey employed 132 "college-educated" women across the Washington area in a tightly run prostitution ring that netted Palfrey over $2 million in profit. Some of her business was conducted from Dublin.
Palfrey denies the charges and claims that she ran a legitimate escort service to provide "high end" clients services such as nude dancing and massage. In 1991 Palfrey was convicted for operating an illegal prostitution service in California and spent 18 months in jail.
Ms Palfrey thought about retiring to Ireland. She was here in 2004 looking at homes "I was in Ireland on pleasure and a wee bit of business," she said. "I was considering the possibility of relocating to Ireland, once I retired." She has since decided to move to Germany, if she's acquitted.
In past months Ms Palfrey had threatened to sell her tantalising list of names in the hopes of paying her mounting legal fees. Despite her demure appearance -- her dark rimmed glasses and serious business suits better suited to a banker than a notorious brothel owner -- Palfrey warned that she wasn't going down without a fight.
"I sure as heck am not going to be going to federal prison for one day ... because I'm shy about bringing in the deputy secretary of whatever. Not for a second. I'll bring every last one of them in if necessary," she said. But last week a federal judge saved Ms Palfrey the bother and ordered the release of the phone records -- a list so large that it weighs over 21kg.
Since their publication, some 50 organisations and individuals have begun poring over the records in the hopes of revealing numbers that can be traced to powerful names in Washington.
"It will take a small army of people skilled in computer and phone technology investigation as well as factual knowledge regarding the significance or non-significance of identified persons," said Palfrey. "The overall endeavour easily could take many months, if not years to research and report conscientiously., But time isn't a problem to Lori Price who manages the Citizens for Legitimate Government website, one of the organisations currently analysing the records. "I've got the air conditioning on and my coffee cup beside me, and we'll be plodding through the list," Price told the Washington Post.
Since his startling confession this week, David Vitter has gone underground, causing intense media speculation as to his whereabouts.
While Vitter said his wife had forgiven him for his "sin", she once portrayed herself as not at all the forgiving type when discussing Hillary Clinton's reaction to her husband's infidelity.
"I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary," Wendy Vitter told the Newhouse News Service in 2000, in reference to the Virginia housewife who cut off her husband's penis and threw it into a neighbour's garden. "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me," she said.
Perhaps the senator from Louisiana has more to fear at home than he does from his political opponents.