Baucus nominated Hanes for the U.S. attorney post in March. But she later withdrew, saying she had been presented with other opportunities she couldn't pass up.
The Senate leader, helping to manage Democratic health care legislation during a rare session Saturday, had submitted six names to a third-party reviewer, who whittled those to Hanes and two others. Matsdorf said the senator sent the three names to the White House with no ranking to select a nominee.
Matsdorf said Baucus' relationship with his girlfriend had nothing to do with his decision.
"Senator Baucus recommended each of the three candidates based solely on qualifications, and merit, knowing whichever one the White House selected would serve Montana well," Matsdorf said.
The spokesman said Baucus and Hanes decided during the nomination process that she should withdraw her name because the couple wanted to live together in Washington, which they later did.
The senator disclosed the circumstances surrounding the nomination after inquiries from Mainjustice.com, a news Web site focusing on the Justice Department that first reported Baucus' relationship with his nominee.
Baucus and his ex-wife Wanda announced last April that they planned to divorce after 25 years of marriage, his second. In a joint statement, they said they had "parted ways amicably and with mutual respect."
Hanes started working for Baucus in 2002 and was his state director before leaving his office earlier this year for a Justice Department position.
"Mel is supremely qualified and she got to her current position based solely on her merit," Matsdorf said.
President Barack Obama eventually nominated Helena attorney Michael Cotter for the U.S. attorney post, which supervises prosecutors of all federal crimes committed in Montana and the state's seven Indian reservations. Cotter is awaiting confirmation.
Word of Hanes' nomination follows other recent disclosures of romantic liaisons by political leaders, including South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and two-time Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards.
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