For­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Reno dies at 78

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

The blunt pros­e­cu­tor was the first woman to hold the fed­eral law-en­force­ment po­si­tion.

Shy and ad­mit­tedly awk­ward, Janet Reno be­came a blunt pros­e­cu­tor and the first woman to serve as U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral and was also the epi­cen­ter of a re­lent­less se­ries of po­lit­i­cal storms, from the deadly raid on the Branch Da­vid­ian com­pound at Waco, Texas, to the seizure of 5-year-old Cuban im­mi­grant Elian Gon­za­lez.

Reno, 78, died early Mon­day of com­pli­ca­tions from Parkin­son’s dis­ease, her god­daugh­ter Gabrielle D’Alem­berte told The As­so­ci­ated Press. D’Alem­berte said Reno spent her fi­nal days at home in Miami sur­rounded by fam­ily and friends.

Reno, a for­mer Miami pros­e­cu­tor who fa­mously told re­porters “I don’t do spin,” served nearly eight years as at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, the long­est stint in a cen­tury.

Her sis­ter, Maggy Reno Hur­challa, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Clin­ton called over the week­end said to “tell Janet I love her” and that many oth­ers from her ca­reer vis­ited or called, in­clud­ing for­mer Florida gover­nor and Sen. Bob Gra­ham.

“When I tucked her in at night, I said ‘I love you,’” Hur­challa said. “She looked like she was asleep and raised one eye­brow and said, ‘I love you too very much.’ She was sur­rounded this week­end by peo­ple who love her.”

One of the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion’s most rec­og­niz­able and po­lar­iz­ing fig­ures, Reno faced crit­i­cism early in her ten­ure for the deadly raid on the Branch Da­vid­ian com­pound at Waco, Texas, where sect leader David Koresh and some 80 fol­low­ers per­ished.

She was known for de­lib­er­at­ing slowly, pub­licly and in a typ­i­cally blunt man­ner. Reno fre­quently told the pub­lic “the buck stops with me,” bor­row­ing the mantra from Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man.

Af­ter Waco, Reno fig­ured into some of the con­tro­ver­sies and scan­dals that marked the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing White­wa­ter, Fi­le­gate, bungling at the FBI lab­o­ra­tory, Mon­ica Lewin­sky, al­leged Chi­nese nu­clear spy­ing and ques­tion­able cam­paign fi­nanc­ing in the 1996 Clin­tonGore re-elec­tion.

In the spring of 2000, Reno en­raged her home­town’s Cuban-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity when she au­tho­rized the armed seizure of young Elian. The boy was taken from the Lit­tle Ha­vana home of his Miami rel­a­tives so he could be re­turned to his fa­ther in Cuba.

Dur­ing her ten­ure, the Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cuted the 1995 Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing case, cap­tured the “Un­abomber” Theodore Kaczyn­ski that same year and in­ves­ti­gated the 1993 ter­ror­ist at­tack on New York’s World Trade Cen­ter. The depart­ment also filed a ma­jor an­titrust law­suit against Mi­crosoft Corp. and Reno was a strong ad­vo­cate for pro­tect­ing abor­tion clin­ics from vi­o­lence.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch praised Reno’s in­tegrity and sta­tus as a fe­male trail­blazer, call­ing Reno in a state­ment “one of the most ef­fec­tive, de­ci­sive and well-re­spected lead­ers” in Jus­tice Depart­ment his­tory.

Reno, added Lynch, ap­proached chal­lenges “guided by one sim­ple test: to do what the law and the facts re­quired. She ac­cepted the re­sults of that test re­gard­less of which way the po­lit­i­cal winds were blow­ing.”

Miami U.S. At­tor­ney Wifredo Fer­rer, who worked for Reno in Wash­ing­ton from 1995-2000, re­called her com­pas­sion for the na­tion’s dis­pos­sessed, her warm re­la­tion­ship with em­ploy­ees and her prac­ti­cal ap­proach to prob­lems.

“Even if you agreed or dis­agreed with her, you knew she was com­ing from a place of in­tegrity,” Fer­rer said in an in­ter­view. “”Through her work, through her de­ci­sions, she ex­hib­ited a lot of strength and a lot of courage. And that is also in­spir­ing.”

Af­ter leav­ing Wash­ing­ton, Reno re­turned to Florida to run for gover­nor in 2002 but lost in a Demo­cratic pri­mary marred by vot­ing prob­lems.

The cam­paign ended a pub­lic ca­reer that started amid hum­ble be­gin­nings. Born July 21, 1938, Janet Wood Reno was the daugh­ter of two news­pa­per re­porters and the el­dest of four sib­lings. She grew up on the edge of the Ever­glades in a cy­press and brick home­stead built by her mother and re­turned there af­ter leav­ing Wash­ing­ton. Her late brother Robert Reno was a long­time colum­nist for News­day on Long Is­land.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Cor­nell Univer­sity with a de­gree in chem­istry, Reno be­came one of 16 women in Har­vard Law School’s Class of 1963. Reno, who stood over 6 feet tall, later said she wanted to be­come a lawyer “be­cause I didn’t want peo­ple to tell me what to do.”

In 1993, Clin­ton tapped her to be­come the first woman to lead the Jus­tice Depart­ment af­ter his first two choices — also women — were with­drawn be­cause both had hired il­le­gal im­mi­grants as nan­nies. Reno was 54.

“It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence, and I hope I do the women of Amer­ica proud,” Reno said af­ter she won con­fir­ma­tion.

Clin­ton said the vote might be “the only vote I carry 98-0 this year.”

A lit­tle more than a month af­ter tak­ing of­fice, how­ever, Reno be­came em­broiled in con­tro­versy with the raid on the Branch Da­vid­ian com­pound near Waco.

The stand­off had started even be­fore Reno was con­firmed as at­tor­ney gen­eral. On Feb. 28, 1993, agents from the U.S. Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco and Firearms made a sur­prise raid on the com­pound, try­ing to ex­e­cute a search war­rant. But dur­ing the raid gun­fire erupted, killing four agents and six mem­bers of the re­li­gious sect.

That led to a 51-day stand­off, end­ing April 19, 1993, when the com­plex caught fire and burned to the ground. The govern­ment claimed the Da­vid­i­ans com­mit­ted sui­cide, shoot­ing them­selves and set­ting the fire. Sur­vivors said the blaze was started by tear gas rounds fired into the com­pound by govern­ment tanks, and that agents shot at some who tried to flee. Reno had au­tho­rized the use of the tear gas to end the stand­off and later called the day the worst of her life.

“It was a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion,” Reno said of the in­ci­dent dur­ing a 2005 lec­ture at Duke Univer­sity. “The tragedy is that we will never know what was the right thing to do.”

Things got no eas­ier af­ter Waco. In 1995 Reno was di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s af­ter notic­ing a trem­bling in her left hand. She said from the be­gin­ning that the di­ag­no­sis, which she an­nounced dur­ing a weekly news con­fer­ence, would not im­pair her job per­for­mance. And crit­ics — both Repub­li­cans and Democrats — did not give her a pass be­cause of it.

Repub­li­cans ar­gued she should have sought ap­point­ment of an in­de­pen­dent coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of Clin­ton-Gore fundrais­ing vi­o­la­tions. Democrats, mean­while, grum­bled that she failed to act as a team player.

AP FILE

Janet Reno, 78, the first woman to serve as at­tor­ney gen­eral, died on Mon­day of com­pli­ca­tions from Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

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