White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today that “nobody” at the White House knew that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was in a personal relationship with one of the candidates he recommended for Montana U.S. Attorney.
We were the first to report Friday that Melodee Hanes was one of three finalists whose names Baucus submitted to the White House as potential nominees for U.S. Attorney for Montana. Hanes withdrew earlier this year to live with the senator in Washington. President Barack Obama ultimately nominated Michael Cotter for Montana U.S. Attorney.
We reported earlier today that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who was Baucus’ former chief of staff, had emerged as someone who may have known about the relationship at the time of the U.S. Attorney vetting. Messina has not responded to requests for comment from Main Justice.
Here’s the exchange between Gibbs and a reporter at the daily White House press briefing:
Q One last thing — I’m sorry — on Max Baucus. Melodee Hanes we know was one of three names Senator Baucus sent to the White House to be U.S. Attorney. Did Jim Messina, who’s very close to Senator Baucus, did he play any role for the White House? Did he recuse himself from any of those discussions?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what Jim’s involvement was on those discussions, but I think as the senator told the media over the weekend and as we told you and others that asked, Senator Baucus did not give us any information about those three names. Nobody here was involved in that.
Q But Jim is very close to Max Baucus.
MR. GIBBS: But, Ed, when I say nobody was involved in it, I don’t mean “everybody but people that know Senator Baucus” — I mean nobody.
Q And he didn’t play any role in getting a Justice Department job for her either?
MR. GIBBS: Those are obviously jobs that are based on who’s best for the job.
The press briefing then moved on to another topic.