Baucus Scandal

N.Y. Times:

A spokesman for Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, said early Saturday that the senator nominated his girlfriend, a lawyer who worked for him at the time, for a United States attorney position last March.

The girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, worked for Mr. Baucus as his state office director and as a field director between 2003 and 2009.

Baucus eventually withdrew Hanes’ name from consideration.  Because he thought better of his obvious ethical lapse? Hardly.

Mr. Baucus and Ms. Hanes then decided that she should withdraw her name from consideration because the couple wanted to live together in Washington, Mr. Matsdorf said.

Matsdorf, it should be noted, is Baucus’s spokesman, and that’s the best he could do!

In his statement, Mr. Matsdorf said Ms. Hanes was recommended for the United States attorney position solely on the basis of her credentials.

“With an extensive background as a prosecutor and extensive legal experience, Ms. Hanes submitted her name for consideration for the U.S. Attorney position from Montana,” he said. “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.”

I don’t know anything about Hanes’s background, nor do I know how “independent” the third-party reviewer was. But spending the last six years working as a Senator’s field office and state office director (i.e., not even working as a lawyer) hardly seems like the kind of credentials one expects from a U.S. attorney candidate, and certainly not one purportedly recommended “solely on the basis of her credentials.”

And even if Hanes was the single most qualified individual in Montana for the position, it’s obvious that Baucus should have had no part in nominating his girlfriend to a U.S. attorney position. (The fact that Baucus and Hanes were both married (but separated) at the time is getting much of the attention in newspaper headlines, but is hardly the core of the public scandal.)

Baucus has abused his position and the public trust, and has proven himself unworthy of being a Senator.  He should resign.  Unfortunately, the voters won’t have a chance to kick him out until 2014.

UPDATE: Credit goes to the website Main Justice for breaking the story and forcing Baucus’s admission.  Hanes’s c.v. can be found hereAnd there is this nugget: “‘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.”

FURTHER UPDATE: The Daily Kos reviews Hanes’ background, and concludes that she and Bennett “left Iowa in disgrace.”  The Eighth Circuit later wrote about one of Hanes’s cases:

Every court that has reviewed this case has been struck by certain aspects of the trial and actions of prosecutors that violate the fundamental notions of fair play on which our legal system is based. For example, the Iowa District Court for Polk County, addressing Morales’s application for post-conviction relief, found prosecutor Hanes’s instruction to withhold medical records from the defense team prior to the second autopsy “suspicious at best” ….

The treating surgeon has now recanted his trial testimony, at least to the extent of placing any reliance on the opinions of the Medical Examiner [Bennett, Hanes’s then-husband]. Defense counsel failed … to make an adequate offer of proof regarding the romantic relationship between a prosecutor [Hanes] and the Medical Examiner [Bennett].

Finally, fwiw, Hanes lists herself on her c.v. as an adjunct professor at Drake Law School from “1990-present.”  Seems odd to me that someone living in Montana could be an active adjunct professor in Des Moines, and a search of Drake’s website retrieves no results for “Hanes,” nor do the classes she purports to teach appear in Drake’s course list.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Some commenters think I’m being too harsh on Baucus, given that Senatorial appointments are full of conflicts of interest, personal favors, favoritism to friends, relatives, political allies, donors, friends and relatives of donors, etc.  Perhaps.  But I suspect that if I knew more of what went on behind closed doors in the Senate, my reaction would not be that this absolves Baucus, but that more Senators should resign, not that Baucus should be off the hook.