Update, Sunday, Dec. 6: Democratic senators rallied behind Baucus over the weekend, asserting there would be “no distraction” in the healthcare debate. Republican response was relatively muted, though some called for an ethics committee investigation. Baucus told reporters he had done nothing wrong and had gone “out of my way to be on the up and up.”
In a revelation that could taint Montana’s senior Senator at a pivotal moment in his long career, Senator Max Baucus’ office disclosed late Friday that he had recommended long-time staffer and recent girlfriend Melodee Hanes for the job of U.S. Attorney for Montana. She later withdrew from consideration because the two had decided to move in together in Washington.
Hanes and Baucus both recently divorced their spouses. The statement from Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf said “in no way was their relationship the cause of their respective divorces.” Hanes, an attorney, was state director for Baucus and now works at the Justice Department. She was one of three people Baucus recommended to President Obama for the job of U.S. Attorney for Montana, and the statement asserted that the recommendation was based solely on merit.
The story was first reported by Main Justice, which covers the Justice Department.
Despite Baucus’ contention that there was nothing improper in his actions and that Hanes was well-qualified for the post, the situation is likely to spur calls for a Senate ethics committee inquiry, noted Politico.
The discloure comes at a time when Baucus’ profile has never been higher, due to his central role in shaping healthcare legislation. That legislation is now before the full Senate, and Baucus, the Finance Committee chair, is a key player in the dealing that will likely be necessary to get the bill passed.