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Only friends and family need apply

One would think political leaders would have learned some lessons in the wake of the scandal surrounding the firings of U.S. attorneys in the George W. Bush administration.

But apparently Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and some of his colleagues didn't get the memo about restoring confidence in the Justice Department.

Turns out Baucus, 67, nominated his girlfriend to be the U.S. attorney in Montana. Melodee Hanes, 53, a top aide to the senator, was one of three names Baucus submitted for the plum post earlier this year.

Hanes later withdrew her name from the list, and President Obama nominated one of Baucus' other choices to be the top federal prosecutor in Montana.

Meanwhile, Baucus' girlfriend has nonetheless landed a job in the Justice Department — at its main office in Washington. A Baucus spokesman says she got the job "solely on merit."

Sure; she probably even filled out an application.

It was just a little more than two years ago when then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned after reigning over the firing of a handful of U.S. attorneys for political reasons. The controversy greatly tarnished the reputation of the Justice Department.

A report by the agency's inspector general in October 2008 found that the firings were "arbitrary," "flawed," and "raised doubts about the integrity of prosecution decisions."

Senators have a lot of sway in selecting the U.S. attorneys in their home states. But, although the job is a political appointment, nominating your girlfriend — regardless of whether she is qualified — is way out of line.

Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a leader in efforts to reform the health-care system. His bungling of the U.S. attorney nomination has prompted Republicans to call for an ethics investigation.

But he's not alone. Other senators have nominated family and friends for government jobs, too.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.) recommended a lawyer from his Judiciary Committee to be U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

Brendan Johnson, 34, the son of Sen. Tim Johnson (D., S.D.) has been nominated to be the top federal prosecutor in South Dakota.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.) recommended a former staff attorney from the Judiciary Committee to be the in Vermont.

An attorney who worked for Vice President Biden in the Senate was nominated to be the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.

It's not that these people aren't qualified to hold a federal position. But others who might be even more qualified aren't given consideration because they don't have an inside connection.

At least Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.) did the right thing in his state. Reid recommended Daniel G. Bogden, one of the U.S. attorneys who was fired under Bush.