"WASHINGTON—Sen. Max Baucus, one of the most powerful members of Congress and a key figure in the health overhaul debate, recommended his girlfriend to serve as the U.S. attorney for his home state of Montana, a Baucus spokesman said Saturday.
The disclosure was first made late Friday by Sen. Baucus's office and came as other media outlets prepared to publish stories on the issue.
Baucus spokesman Tyler Matsdorf said the senator and his girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, began their relationship in mid-2008 after the senator separated from his wife. At the time, Ms. Hanes was serving as the senator's state office director.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Mr. Matsdorf said the relationship was "in no way" the cause of Sen. Baucus's recent divorce.
Mr. Matsdorf said Ms. Hanes "began the process of resigning her Senate employment" after she and the senator "realized that their relationship was developing beyond a purely professional nature." She left the Senate payroll early this year.
As part of the transition, Ms. Hanes, who has extensive experience as a prosecutor, applied for the U.S. attorney post. Ultimately, she was one of three finalists recommended for the job by a third party attorney who was given the job of reviewing candidates for the job. Sen. Baucus recommended her to the Obama administration, "with no ranking or preference," for the post, along with two other individuals, the spokesman said.
She later withdrew, however. "While her personal relationship with Senator Baucus should in no way be either a qualifier or a disqualifier for the position, during the nomination process and after much reflection, both Senator Baucus and Ms. Hanes agreed that she should withdraw her name from consideration because they wanted to live together in Washington, D.C.," Mr. Matsdorf said.
Ms. Hanes now works at the Justice Department, and "was awarded the position based solely on her merit," the spokesman said.
The episode is sure to be an embarrassment for Democrats and will likely prove distracting for Mr. Baucus, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee tries to navigate the sweeping health bill through the Senate.
The disclosure is the latest example of a scandal in which a lawmaker's personal life and public obligations have intersected, following on the heels of revelations involving South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada's Sen. John Ensign. "