We thought the news of Tiger Woods' alleged extramarital affair with Missoula native Kalika Moquin would be the only tabloid fodder coming out of Montana last week, but then Sen. Max Baucus got caught in the same sort of sand trap. Thanks to a report from MainJustice.com, we learned that Baucus' current girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, was also his one-time nominee for Montana's U.S. attorney position. Nothing like red-hot headlines to keep us warm during these frigid days.
Baucus issued a quick statement last Friday clarifying that he began dating Hanes in mid-2008, after he and his then-wife separated. He also declared that Hanes deserved the nomination on the merits of her legal work, and their relationship had nothing to do with his support.
Baucus failed to explain, however, why he never divulged the extent of his relationship with someone up for the top federal law enforcement position in the state. Former Missoulian reporter Jodi Rave revealed on her blog that she questioned Baucus' staff about Hanes in March regarding both the nomination and alleged relationship. Baucus only responded when Rave threatened that a story would run the following day, and even then Hanes simply dropped out of the running for the position. No word from Baucus about the relationship at the time—and, for that matter, no follow-up from the Missoulian on what would have been quite a scoop.
But even assuming Baucus' relationship with Hanes had nothing to do with her nomination, her credentials still raise questions. According to a report on DailyKos.com, Hanes had a controversial track record before moving to Montana. While living in Iowa, she and ex-husband Thomas Bennett, then the state's medical examiner, worked in cahoots to make sure alleged child abusers were found guilty—sometimes despite evidence that might prove otherwise. A Court of Appeals review of cases involving both Hanes and Bennett referred to "actions of prosecutors that violate the fundamental notions of fair play on which our legal system is based." A District Court judge found one of Hanes' requests to withhold medical records from the defense team "suspicious at best." Does that sound like U.S. attorney material?
The sad part about this entire episode is that, unlike the tabloid-worthy Tiger Woods story, every aspect of the Baucus scandal barely registers as sensational. Whether it's health care, climate change or girlfriends, questioning the senator's motives has become par for the course.