WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Max Baucus gave the director of his Montana office a nearly $14,000 raise as they were becoming romantically involved last year, a spokesman for the senator said Friday.
Baucus, a Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, recommended the woman, Melodee Hanes, for Montana's U.S. attorney post in February, by which time she was his girlfriend. He has called the former state prosecutor "highly qualified."
Hanes, 53, withdrew from consideration in March, saying she had received other opportunities. She was hired in June as a top official in the Justice Department.
Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf said Hanes' raise was the same amount received by the senator's legislative director and less than the raise given to his chief of staff.
"Virtually our entire staff saw their salaries increase during that period, and other senior staff members received the same or greater increases, based on their hard work, including Ms. Hanes," Matsdorf said.
Hanes was paid $126,541 from Oct. 1, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2008, congressional records show.
In another new detail, the spokesman said Hanes met with the senator's divorce attorney at least twice in the summer of 2007. That was eight months before Max and Wanda Baucus separated, a meeting that the senator's former wife said Friday was inappropriate.
Wanda Baucus said she knew nothing about the 2007 meetings and that the couple had not at that point discussed getting a divorce.
"I think this whole thing is very sad. It's not the way you do things," Wanda Baucus, the senator's second wife, said in an interview.
Matsdorf said the meetings between Hanes and divorce lawyer Ron Waterman were in her official role as state director. He said they focused on scheduling and logistics — including how a potential separation between Baucus and his wife could affect the senator's travel and work. Baucus and his wife divorced last April.
"Ending a 25-year marriage is a serious undertaking that should be discussed first within the family," Wanda Baucus said. "There's no justification for the staff being involved in such private matters."
The meetings were first reported by Lee Newspapers.
The senator, who turned 68 on Friday, has said he began dating Hanes in the summer of 2008 after they were both separated from their spouses and Hanes worked for him. The two now live together.
Matsdorf also confirmed that Hanes accompanied Baucus on a taxpayer-funded trip last year to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Hanes went on the trip, which included a visit to Vietnam, in her official role as state director, along with several other senior staffers, Matsdorf said.
"These trips are about Montana, opening markets for our products and developing networks to help the state's business people overseas," he said.
Baucus revealed the romantic relationship with Hanes last week after a Web site reported the circumstances of Hanes' nomination. Baucus said he sent three names, unranked, to the White House for consideration.
President Barack Obama eventually nominated Helena lawyer Michael Cotter for U.S. attorney, supervising prosecutions of all federal crimes committed in Montana and the state's seven Indian reservations. Cotter is awaiting Senate confirmation.