Saturday, December 5, 2009
-- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was romantically involved with a former staffer when he recommended her earlier this year to become the next U.S. attorney for Montana, a spokesman said.
The Montana Democrat and his former state office director Melodee Hanes began their relationship in the summer of 2008 after Baucus separated from his wife, Ty Matsdorf told The Associated Press late Friday.
Baucus nominated Hanes for the U.S. attorney post in March. But she later withdrew, saying she had been presented with other opportunities she couldn't pass up.
The Senate leader who's been a major proponent of Democratic health care legislation had submitted six names to a third-party reviewer, who whittled those to Hanes and two others. Matsdorf said the senator sent the three names to the White House with no ranking to select a nominee.
Matsdorf said Baucus' relationship with his girlfriend had nothing to do with his decision.
"Senator Baucus recommended each of the three candidates based solely on qualifications, and merit, knowing whichever one the White House selected would serve Montana well," Matsdorf said.
The spokesman said Baucus and Hanes decided during the nomination process that she should withdraw her name because the couple wanted to live together in Washington, which they later did.
Matsdorf declined to say why the senator was just now disclosing the circumstances surrounding the nomination.
Baucus and his ex-wife Wanda announced last April that they planned to divorce after 25 years of marriage, his second. In a joint statement, they said they had "parted ways amicably and with mutual respect."
Hanes started working for Baucus in 2002 and was his state director before leaving his office earlier this year for a position in the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Mel is supremely qualified and she got to her current position based solely on her merit," Matsdorf said.
President Barack Obama eventually nominated Helena attorney Michael Cotter for the U.S. attorney post, which supervises prosecutors of all federal crimes committed in Montana and the state's seven Indian reservations. Cotter is awaiting confirmation.
Posted by news update at 7:00 AM