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Corruption Chronicles

Montana Senator Nominates Girlfriend As U.S. Atty.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee surreptitiously nominated his girlfriend to be the top federal prosecutor in his home state and though she didn’t get that job she still got a treasured political appointment at the Justice Department.

Montana Democrat Max Baucus has been exposed in several news reports for trying to get his girlfriend a cherished post as a United States Attorney in his Montana district without disclosing their romantic relationship. The girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, was the director of Baucus’ official state office when the married lawmaker began having an elicit affair with her. 

Earlier this year Hanes was one of three names that Baucus forwarded to the White House—without mentioning that he was sleeping with her—for consideration as Montana’s U.S. Attorney. President Obama eventually picked another one of Baucus’ nominees (Mike Cotter) for the post but Melodee, who is 14 years younger than her legislator boyfriend, still got a top job in a key Justice Department division.

Agency officials assure that Melodee was chosen “because of her decades of experience in the field” and not because her powerful boyfriend intervened in any way, although they refuse to disclose the exact type of political appointment Hanes received. Baucus says “Mel,” as he affectionately calls her, applied independently with the Department of Justice and got the job on her own merit. 

For years Hanes worked as field director and counsel in Baucus’ office and as regional finance director for the senator’s 2002 reelection campaign. Before that she was primarily a county prosecutor that mainly dealt with felony sexual assault and child abuse cases. Her only federal court experience was handling personal injury and employment discrimination cases for a few years in the 1980s as a partner at an Iowa law firm. These credentials hardly qualify Hanes to be one of the nation’s 93 principal federal litigators under the Attorney General. 


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