A Department of Justice official who is in a relationship with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) withdrew as a finalist for Montana U.S. Attorney to live with the senator in Washington, a Baucus spokesperson confirmed to Main Justice today.
Melodee Hanes, the Montana senator’s former state director, withdrew earlier this year after Baucus sent her name and two others to the White House as his recommendations for the state’s top federal prosecuting job.
“Senator Baucus is currently in a mature and happy relationship with Melodee Hanes. They are both divorced, and in no way was their relationship the cause of their respective divorces,” Ty Matsdorf, a spokesperson for Baucus, said in a statement to Main Justice.
Baucus and Hanes mutually agreed she should withdraw from consideration for U.S. Attorney “after much reflection … because they wanted to live together in Washington, D.C.,” the statement said.
In September, President Barack Obama nominated Helena attorney Michael Cotter for the U.S. Attorney position. Mike Wheat, a lawyer in Bozeman, Mont., was also considered.
Hanes and Baucus, who both ended their marriages within the last year, are living together in Baucus’s Capitol Hill home, purchased in June.
“She was recommended for the position because of a very close and personal relationship with Max Baucus and she withdrew because of a very close and personal relationship with Max Baucus,” Thomas Bennett, Hanes’ ex-husband, told Main Justice. Bennett and Hanes divorced in December 2008.
Hanes, who is now acting Deputy Administrator for Policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, did not return repeated requests for comment left at her work.
Hanes said in a statement reported by The Associated Press in March that she withdrew because she had “been presented with other opportunities that I felt I could not bypass.” Hanes stepped down as the senator’s state director in June. She worked for Baucus’s Senate re-election campaign in 2002 as regional finance director and became a member of his Senate staff in 2003.
Hanes served as a county prosecutor in Montana for three years before joining Baucus’s Senate staff. She was also a law professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and has written extensively on child and sexual abuse issues.
It is unclear when Baucus and Hanes entered into a personal relationship. A person familiar with the Max Baucus family told Main Justice that people at the June 2008 wedding for Zeno Baucus, the senator’s son from his first marriage to Ann Geracimos, observed the senator and Hanes dancing in a way that appeared “beyond professional.”
Baucus and his ex-wife, Wanda, announced their divorce in April after 26 years of marriage. Wanda and Max Baucus said in a joint statement in April reported by The AP that they “parted ways amicably and with mutual respect.”
“Our marriage has been an interesting journey often of intense work with many people who have become cherished friends,” the statement from Wanda and Max Baucus said, according to the AP. “We are grateful for the opportunities we have had together and now as we pursue individual lives we appreciate everyone’s understanding and respect for our privacy.”
As Senate Finance Chairman, Baucus is the Democrats’ point man on health care reform, now being debated on the Senate floor. Hanes now works for an arm of the Justice Department that supports research, training and programs to support juvenile justice programs throughout the country.
Hanes “independently applied for her current position at the Department of Justice,” the statement from Matsdorf said. “Having extensive experience and qualifications in the field, Ms. Hanes was awarded the position based solely on her merit. Since then she has excelled in her role.” Click here for a copy of Hanes’s resume.
Below is the full statement from Baucus spokesman Matsdorf:
Senator Baucus is currently in a mature and happy relationship with Melodee Hanes. They are both divorced, and in no way was their relationship the cause of their respective divorces.
When Senator Baucus and Melodee Hanes, his former state director, realized that their relationship was developing beyond a purely professional nature, Melodee began the process of resigning her Senate employment.
With an extensive background as a prosecutor and extensive legal experience (see resume below), Ms. Hanes submitted her name for consideration for the U.S Attorney position from Montana. Her name was one of six that was submitted for review by Senator Baucus to an independent, highly respected Montana attorney who reviewed the applications. After an extensive evaluation of all the applicants’ qualifications, Ms. Hanes was one of three applicants the third-party reviewer recommended for consideration. Senator Baucus and Senator Tester then interviewed those candidates and Senator Baucus then submitted those three names to the White House, with no ranking or preference.
While her personal relationship with Senator Baucus should in no way be either a qualifier or a disqualifier for the position, during the nomination process and after much reflection, both Senator Baucus and Ms. Hanes agreed that she should withdraw her name from consideration because they wanted to live together in Washington, DC.
After withdrawing from consideration for U.S. Attorney, Ms. Hanes independently applied for her current position at the Department of Justice. Having extensive experience and qualifications in the field (see resume below), Ms. Hanes was awarded the position based solely on her merit. Since then she has excelled in her role.
UPDATE 2:08 a.m.: Baucus spokesman Matsdorf told Main Justice that the relationship between Baucus and Hanes began in the summer of 2008. Hanes and Thomas Bennett, her ex-husband, divorced in December 2008. Baucus and his ex-wife, Wanda, announced their divorce in April 2009.