Sen. Max Baucus' girlfriend met with his divorce attorney in 2007, months before the senator and his wife separated, and later received a nearly $14,000 pay raise from Baucus as they were becoming romantically involved, a spokesman for the senator said Friday.
Melodee Hanes met with the senator's divorce attorney at least twice in the summer of 2007 when she was director of Baucus' Montana office, eight months before Max and Wanda Baucus separated, the senator's spokesman said.
Baucus, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, recommended Hanes for Montana's U.S. attorney post in February, by which time the two were in a romantic relationship. He has called the former state prosecutor "highly qualified."
Hanes, 53, withdrew from consideration in March, saying she had received other opportunities she couldn't pass up. She was hired in June as a top official in the Justice Department.
Baucus, who turned 68 on Friday, has said he began dating Hanes in the summer of 2008 after they were both separated from their spouses. The two began dating while Hanes worked for him and now live together.
Wanda Baucus, the senator's second wife, said Friday that 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," she said in an interview.
Ty Matsdorf, a spokesman for Max Baucus, said Friday that 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.
Matsdorf said Baucus gave Hanes a nearly $14,000 pay raise last year as the two were becoming romantically involved.
"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.
The raise received by Hanes was the same amount received by Baucus' legislative director and less than the raise given to the senator's chief of staff, Matsdorf said.
Hanes was paid $126,541 from Oct. 1, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2008, congressional records show.
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.