The live-in girlfriend of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is a political appointee at the Justice Department, DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told Main Justice today.
Both the Justice Department and Baucus issued statements Saturday stressing that Melodee Hanes, who had been the senator’s state director and one of Baucus’s recommendations for Montana U.S. Attorney, was hired for her qualifications.
“Mel applied independently with the Department of Justice, and, not surprisingly to anyone who’s looked at her resume, got the DOJ job on her merit,” Baucus said in a statement.
Hanes in June became acting Deputy Administrator for Policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, an arm of the DOJ that supports research, training and programs for juvenile justice programs throughout the country.
She was hired at Justice “because of her decades of experience in the field,” DOJ spokesperson Hannah August said in a statement.
Neither the Montana senator nor members of his Senate staff lobbied the administration to appoint Hanes to the DOJ political job, August added.
Justice spokeswoman Schmaler wasn’t immediately able to say what type of political appointment Hanes received. Executive branch standards for hiring and retaining political appointees vary. Some political appointees can be hired without using “traditional competitive hiring procedures,” according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
As Main Justice first reported Friday, Hanes withdrew from consideration as Montana’s U.S. Attorney earlier this year over concerns that her personal relationship with the senator presented a conflict of interest.
Baucus, as the state’s senior senator, had recommended Hanes and two other lawyers for the plum post as Montana’s top federal prosecutor earlier this year. At the time, Hanes was on Baucus’s Senate payroll as his state director and had already become romantically involved with the senator.
In March, Hanes said she had withdrawn from consideration for U.S. Attorney because she had “been presented with other opportunities that I felt I could not bypass,” The Associated Press reported at the time.
In June, she left Baucus’s staff and joined the Justice Department.
“Mel and I were both separated from our former spouses when we got together. It wasn’t an ‘affair,’ Baucus said in his statement. “As we grew closer and things progressed, we knew it was time to begin the process of Mel transitioning out of my Senate office.
The revelation that Baucus had recommended a staffer with whom he was romantically involved for a U.S. Attorney position comes at an awkward moment for the Senate Finance Committee chairman. The Montanan is the Senate Democrats’ point man on health care reform, and has already been under scrutiny for his ties to health care industry lobbyists.
The Republican National Committee on Saturday called for a Senate ethics investigation of Baucus, questioning whether he used “his Senate office to advance a taxpayer funded appointment for his staff-member girlfriend.” The situation “raises a whole host of ethical questions,” the RNC said.
The Senate is working through the weekend on the historic health care legislation, with Baucus leading the floor debate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement of support. “Max is a good friend, an outstanding senator and he has my full support,” the statement said, according to The Associated Press.