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Baucus Nominated Girlfriend for Top Obama Post

Powerful Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) was forced to make the embarrassing admission that he personally recommended his staffer-turned-girlfriend for a top Obama Justice Department position while the two were dating.

Here's the story according to The Wall Street Journal:

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.

Haynes ultimately withdrew her nomination and is now working for the Obama Justice Department in another capacity. The Senate, meanwhile, has ignored persistent calls for an investigation of Baucus, despite this obvious and corrupt conflict of interest. And don't expect the Senate or the White House to push for accountability given Baucus' central role in pushing the Obama healthcare "plan."

Nonetheless, questions still remain as to what White House officials and those responsible for vetting these candidates knew about Baucus' relationship with Ms. Hanes. (Baucus' former Chief of Staff, Jim Messina, is now Obama's Deputy Chief of Staff and "would know for sure" about the relationship according to one Montana Republican official.) I'm personally of the belief that any such affair was not much of a secret in the halls of power in Congress and in the Justice Department.

And as I tweeted when the scandal broke, this new scandal should put the Bush U.S. Attorney firing "scandal" in better context for honest media. U.S. Attorney positions are too often pure patronage jobs awarded to cronies of U.S. Senators.

There has been a rash of this kind of behavior lately, with public officials conducting illicit affairs and then attempting to cover them up with hush payments and favors, an obvious abuse of their positions of power. (See Senator John Ensign, former Senator John Edwards and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford for other recent case studies.)

As for Baucus, Fox News pointed out on Tuesday that this is not the first time Baucus has been in trouble for his "unusual romantic history." A decade ago Baucus' former Chief of Staff sued him, claiming she was fired after resisting Baucus' "persistent sexual advances." The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

But new questions are popping up about the pay, travel and duties of Baucus's employee-girlfriend. Incredibly, there are no explicit "ethics" rules about members of Congress becoming romantically involved with their employees. Capitol Hill is a taxpayer-funded Peyton Place.

For his latest flap, Baucus is standing by his decision, showing no remorse, confident in the full support of his Senate Democratic (and probably his Republican) colleagues. And, given the low ethical standards of the United States Senate, why shouldn't he be?

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