The Missoulian newspaper today disclosed that Sen. Max Baucus’s future girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, was involved in discussions with the senator’s divorce lawyer in 2007 while serving on the Montana Democrat’s Senate staff. The Montana newspaper quoted from billing records submitted by Baucus’s lawyer, Ronald F. Waterman, in Helena.
Main Justice obtained a copy of the billing records. Click here to see them.
The records show that Hanes – whom Baucus later recommended to the White House as a finalist for Montana’s U.S. Attorney – consulted with the divorce lawyer on such delicate matters as how to determine the value of the home Baucus shared with his then-wife, Wanda, in Washington’s exclusive Georgetown section.
Baucus and Hanes, who now live together in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, were not yet in a relationship in the summer of 2007, Baucus spokesperson Ty Matsdorf told the Missoulian. That relationship began about a year later, in the summer of 2008, the senator’s office has said.
“Melodee Hanes’ interactions were in her official role as state director and focused on scheduling and logistics, including how a potential separation between Sen. Baucus and (his ex-wife) Wanda could impact the senator’s travel and work,” Matsdorf said in a statement to the Montana newspaper.
Although no Senate ethics rules appeared to have been violated by then-staffer Hanes working on her boss’s divorce agreement, the billing records add a new layer of questions to the story.
For instance, there’s a reference in the billing records, not mentioned by the Missoulian, to unnamed “advisors” on an e-mail from the lawyer about the draft separation agreement that Hanes had discussed.
Was one of those advisers Baucus’s then-chief of chief, Jim Messina?
Baucus once told The Washington Post that Messina is “like a son to me.” The senator and his former aide — who is now a White House deputy chief of staff — reportedly remain close friends.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that nobody at the White House, including Messina, knew of the relationship. The White House vets all U.S. Attorney recommendations.
As the relationship intensified in early 2009, Hanes and Baucus mutually concluded that she should withdraw her name from consideration for U.S. Attorney to avoid an appearance of impropriety, the senator’s office has said.
There has been some skepticism among Washington wags that Messina really didn’t know of the relationship. According to The Post profile of Messina, Baucus said his then-chief of staff was “very touched” by a rehearsal-dinner speech Baucus had delivered before his son Zeno Baucus’s wedding in the summer of 2008. The senator said Messina’s departure to the White House meant he was losing two sons, The Post reported.
It was at Zeno’s wedding reception that a person familiar with the Max Baucus family told Main Justice that the senator and Hanes were dancing in a manner that suggested a relationship beyond the professional.
It was also reported today in Politico that the Montana senator gave Hanes a $14,000 raise in 2008, making her one of the Baucus’s highest paid staffers.
Baucus’s office said most Baucus staff members received a raise at that time.
“In fact, during that period, Ms. Hanes’s salary increased by the exact same amount as our legislative director and less than our chief of staff,” said a statement from a Baucus spokesman to Politico.
Hanes also accompanied the Montana senator on a taxpayer-funded trip to Southeast Asia and the Middle East later that year, according to Politico. Hanes does not have a background in foreign policy.
The trip to Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates cost more than $14,000 per person, according to Politico. It was the only overseas trip Hanes took with Baucus in an official capacity, Politico said.
The Baucus office told Politico that there was nothing inappropriate about Hanes accompanying Baucus on the trip, adding that former state directors had also gone on overseas trips.
Hanes declined to comment to Main Justice about the role she played in the senator’s divorce proceedings following a ceremony at the Justice Department today.
Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this report.
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