HELENA — Sen. Max Baucus’ former state director — and now his live-in girlfriend — met at least twice with the senator’s divorce attorney to discuss the Baucuses’ divorce eight months before the senator and his wife, Wanda, separated.
The meetings took place in the summer of 2007, according to billing documents obtained by the Gazette State Bureau.
Contacted this week by the State Bureau and asked about the documents, Wanda Baucus said she knew nothing about those discussions in 2007 and that the couple by then had not had a discussion about getting a divorce.
“Ending a 25-year marriage is a serious undertaking that should be discussed first within the family,” she said. “There’s no justification for the staff being involved in such private matters.”
Melodee Hanes, Baucus’ former chief of staff and current girlfriend, met at least twice with Ron Waterman, the Helena lawyer who worked on the senator’s April 2009 divorce, the billing documents show. At the time, Hanes was a lawyer and high-ranking aide to the senator.
Ty Matsdorf, a Baucus spokesman, said Thursday that Hanes met with Waterman in her official capacity as a member of Baucus’ staff.
“Melodee Hanes’ interactions were in her official role as state director and focused on scheduling and logistics, including how a potential separation between Sen. Baucus and (his ex-wife) Wanda could impact the senator’s travel and work,” Matsdorf said in a statement.
Hanes and Baucus were not involved at the time, Matsdorf said. They began their relationship in the summer of 2008, a few months after Baucus moved out of the Georgetown home he and Wanda shared in March 2008.
Baucus’ and Hanes’ relationship became public last week after a Main Justice, a Washington, D.C., news Web site covering the Justice Department, reported that Baucus had nominated Hanes in February 2009 to be Montana’s U.S. attorney — after the two had started a romantic relationship and while she was still on his Senate payroll.
He also submitted names of two other Montana attorneys, one of which, Mike Cotter of Helena, was chosen for the job in September by President Barack Obama. Cotter awaits Senate confirmation.
Hanes withdrew her name from consideration in March 2009.
Hanes, a former Yellowstone County prosecutor, resigned from Baucus’ staff in June 2009, a year after the two began dating, to take an appointed job at the U.S. Justice Department. The two now live together in Washington, D.C.
The records, noted as “Dissolution of Marriage/Wanda Baucus,” show Hanes met with Waterman to discuss the Baucuses’ separation. One item lists “meeting with Melodee to discuss draft of (separation) agreement and options for separation.”
The records also show Baucus’ lawyer was working on details of the divorce many months before the couple separated. According to the documents, Waterman had contacted a real estate agent to determine a value on the couple’s house and had spoken with an accountant to determine a market value of Baucus’ retirement fund in August 2007.
“The ending of our family life is very sad,” Wanda Baucus said. “It feels like someone has died.”
Erik Iverson, a longtime aide to Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg who also worked on Sen. Conrad Burns’ 2006 re-election campaign, said it’s “not uncommon” for an elected official’s personal life to sometimes intersect with his or her public life.
“If this (divorce) proceeding was somehow impacting the senator’s public schedule or any sort of official duties, then it’s completely understandable that the Senate staff would be in the loop,” he said.
Contact Jennifer McKee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-447-4069.