Did Baucus’s romantic trip to Dubai cost taxpayers billions?

News broke this morning that Senator Max Baucus had recommended his girlfriend for a US attorney job. Earlier this year, Baucus nominated Melodee Hanes, his state director and girlfriend, for the post, along with two others. He later withdrew her name.

During her time in Baucus’s office, Hanes collected plenty of taxpayer money at the Senator’s discretion.

But that wasn’t the only benefit Hanes received at public expense: Baucus and his staffer-girlfriend took a taxpayer-funded trip to Dubai and Vietnam in December 2008, according to Congressional disclosure reports.

Perhaps it didn’t make sense for Baucus to take his state director on this kind of international excursion — one explanation for why he promoted her to an advisory position with the Senate Finance Committee during the dates of travel. Hanes and her husband divorced that same month, in December 2008; it appears that Baucus wanted to celebrate with her on a trip overseas. (I should note that they weren’t alone; several other staffers accompanied them).

Baucus visited Dubai at a critical point in the city’s economic decline, but he failed to make note of its enormous debt load, unsustainable building spree, and looming ratings downgrades in his official statement:

“Dubai has been on the forefront of economic development and growth for the past several years. It is good for our countries to engage. It is good for us to talk together about the importance of issues like education to the stability of the Middle East region, and to the economic competitiveness of both our nations,” said Baucus. “The U.S. – UAE relationship has grown significantly in the past five years, and I hope our relationship will continue to strengthen.”

Relationships aside, there are signs that taxpayers lost more than the cost of a few plane tickets on Baucus’s rendezvous in Dubai.

The day after the Senator met with Sheikh Mohammed, Hanes in tow, and sung the praises of the Dubai debt bubble, Citigroup announced $8 billion in loans to Dubai. This was just weeks after the massive, taxpayer-funded bailout of Citigroup. Citi now has $1.9 billion in exposure to Dubai.

Let me re-phrase that: billions of taxpayer dollars were passed through to Dubai while Baucus was there with his staffer-girlfriend.

To expand on Marcy Wheeler’s timeline of the affair:

Nov 24, 2008: US stages $300 billion rescue of Citigroup
Dec 2008: Melodee Hanes and her husband divorce
Dec 13, 2008: Baucus, Hanes, and other staffers leave for trip to the UAE and Vietnam
Dec 15, 2008: Baucus meets with Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai
Dec 16 Dec 15, 2008: Citigroup announces $8 billion loan to Dubai

Perhaps Baucus was distracted by his traveling companion, and didn’t take note of this atrocious misuse of taxpayer billions. But it seems more likely that he knew about it. And approved of it.

In any case, this story is about more than a romantic dalliance; Baucus should be investigated for his fling with Dubai.

Update 12/5 5:52pm: Citigroup actually announced the $8 billion in loans the day Baucus’s visit with Sheikh Mohammed was reported, on the 15th. The loans had been rolled out over the previous few months, but Citigroup did not make a public announcement about the arrangements until the Senator’s visit.

So, to be fair, the billions in support for Dubai were announced while Baucus was there.