Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Saturday stressed his decision to recommend his girlfriend for the job of U.S. attorney was motivated by her qualifications, not their budding relationship.

Moreover, that relationship was hardly an "affair," as many have described it, because both Baucus and lawyer Melodee Hanes had separated from their respective partners long before they began dating, according to a statement provided by Baucus' office.

"Mel would have been an excellent U.S. Attorney for Montana," Baucus said. "I, for one, did not want her relationship with me to disqualify her from applying for the position."

Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, originally nominated Hanes for the U.S. attorney post in March, along with two other lawyers. Previously, Hanes had worked for Baucus, first as part of his campaign and later as a staff member.

According to the senator's office, Hanes was particularly qualified for the U.S. attorney position because she had handled more than 100 jury trials and specialized in child abuse protection.

However, Hanes and Baucus ultimately decided to rescind that nomination because they hoped to live together.

"As we grew closer and things progressed, we knew it was time to begin the process of Mel transitioning out of my Senate office," Baucus said.

"In the end, we decided it would be best for Mel to withdraw her name from consideration," Baucus added. "That also allowed us to live together in Washington."

Still, the senator has faced considerable scrutiny since news broke Friday for what many regard as a serious conflict of interest. Some Republicans are even calling for an ethics committee investigation into Baucus' relationship and subsequent nomination of Hanes.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled he would stand by Baucus throughout the ordeal.

"Max is a good friend, an outstanding senator and he has my full support," Reid said in a statement.

(Photo by Greg Nash)