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Janet Reno, former U.S. attorney general, has died

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    U.S. President Bill Clinton named Janet Reno the nation’s first female attorney general, in Feb. 1993, at a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. Reno, the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general and the epicenter of several political storms during the Clinton administration, died early today. She was 78.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno testified, in April 2004, before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Reno, the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general and the epicenter of several political storms during the Clinton administration, died today. She was 78.

MIAMI » Shy and admittedly awkward, Janet Reno became a blunt spoken prosecutor and the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, yet she also was 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 today 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.

One of the 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 Clinton-Gore 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.

After leaving Washington, Reno returned to Florida and made an unsuccessful run for Florida 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 of 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 died by 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.

In early 2000, Reno tried to negotiate the return to Cuba of young Elian, who had been rescued after his mother and others had drowned trying to boat from Cuba to Florida. He had been placed in the care of a Miami uncle, but his father, who lived in Cuba, wanted him returned to the island.

When Reno decided talks had broken down that April, she ordered an early morning raid by federal agents who seized the boy, provoking the ire of Miami’s Cuban-American community. Reno insisted that Elian should be with his father — she even kept a snapshot of a smiling Elian in his father’s arms near her home computer.

Reno said later that federal officials tried up until the last minute to negotiate a voluntary handover and avoid the raid — where Elian was found hiding in a closet and confronted by an agent with a gun.

“We have been to great lengths to resolve this case in the least disruptive manner possible,” she said at a news conference following the raid.

As attorney general, Reno was derided by late night talk show hosts for her homely appearance, short wash-and-wear haircut and simple black pumps. Comedian Will Ferrell memorialized her in a “Saturday Night Live” skit called “Janet Reno’s Dance Party” and Reno visited the skit the night she left the Justice Department in January 2001.

Reno began her career in Miami in the mid-1960s and had her first encounter with the “glass ceiling,” getting passed over for a job at a law firm because she was a woman. She later made partner. In 1972, she lost a race for a Miami-area legislative seat but learned the importance of sticking to her principles from mentor John Orr, a former state lawmaker.

“Don’t equivocate, don’t pussyfoot, don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth and you’ll wake up the next morning feeling good about yourself,” he told Reno. It became one of her favorite sayings.

After losing that election, Reno was hired by the Dade State Attorney’s office, where she established herself as an organized and competent lawyer. In 1978, when State Attorney Richard Gerstein decided to step down, Reno was named his successor.

As prosecutor, Reno built programs to help reform drug dealers and combat domestic violence. Another program strong-armed deadbeat dads into paying child support, inspiring a rap song named after her.

It included the line: “All the money you get, all the checks you make; Janet Reno will make sure and take.”

She also weathered a 1980 riot after an all-white jury acquitted five police officers for the beating death of a black insurance salesman. Eighteen people were killed in the rioting and crowds chanted Reno’s name, accusing her of being a racist and demanding her resignation. Reno refused.

“To resign was to give into anarchy,” she said.

Reno eventually won the support of the city’s black community, attending countless community meetings, church services and parades.

Her last foray into politics was the race for Florida governor. Known for being down-to-earth — her home number was listed in a city directory both before and after Washington — and even folksy, she crisscrossed the state to campaign in a red Ford Ranger pickup truck. But Reno lost the primary to Tampa lawyer Bill McBride despite her name recognition. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush defeated McBride to win a second term.

After retiring from politics she served on the boards or as an adviser to several organizations. In 2004 she joined the board of the New York-based Innocence Project, which works to free prisoners who can be proven innocent through DNA testing.

She also spent more time with her family. Reno never married but remained extremely close to her tight-knit family.

Asked to describe her legacy after ending her gubernatorial campaign, Reno quoted George Washington: “If I were to write all that down I might be reduced to tears. I would prefer to drift on down the stream of life and let history make the judgment.”

Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

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  • Good riddance! She was a real psycho Nazi witch hand picked by the Clintons’ to kill lives and ruin it for those that survived. Expect more hand picked nuts like Reno if HitLIARy gets elected.

    • She was not any of the following: a witch, a psycho, nor a naz, by any stretch of the imagination. Your lack of humanity upon a person’s death speaks volumes about your dearth of perspective and basic introspection that most decent people follow. I actually feel sorry for you.

        • So, after tomorrow, I hope you and the rest of the cricket crew will never post again. And Dragon, a previously banned poster for inflammatory racist comments-yup, his base writing style is easy to notice.

        • come on–put on your big boy pants and grow up-just because someone dies doesn’t give them a pass on their history–even Clinton said it was a huge mistake to appoint her.

        • Ikefromeli – your lies are beyond imagination. That survey doesn’t count illegal immigrants crossing the border because there is no tracking of them.

          These Asians that you bad mouth came to the US via legal means and possibly overstayed so you have a fairly accurate body count. The illegal Mexicans whom cross the border aren’t counted so the they only guess what the count is and we are all aware no one knows the true body count of illegals crossing the border on a daily basis.

          Secondly, Asian are highly productive and contribute immensely to our economy whether legal or not. Illegal Mexicans which are still the largest population of illegals by a landslide are a net drain after accounting for all social services they receive.

          Can you share with us how many illegal Mexicans there are in the US and how many illegal Asians there are? I sure would love to see your credible sources.

        • Ikefromeli — you’re not even reading my post before responding. I guess reading was never something you learned from your mother and teacher Klastri.

          1. You tell me how being anti-illegal immigrant a.k.a criminal immigrant makes me a racist?
          2. Irrespective of the minute immigration numbers you reference in these articles you still can’t answer how many illegals cross the border daily. Therefore invalidating the data and referenced articles claims.
          3. You keep posting pro illegal immigration rhetoric in all the comment areas. Again, you should be ashamed of yourself for encouraging, promoting and being a conspirator to criminals and their actions if you are a US Citizen and should be charged with treason. There are countless citizens that are deprived of rightful benefits due to illegals stealing and gaming the system.

        • State the elements of treason and the corresponding legal precedents for what you are suggesting–guess what Dragon, there is none. As Fred Stanford usd to succinctly say to his son–you big dummy.

    • The psychos were the Waco nutcases who abused children and stockpiled weapons. People only think the government should have “waited them out” (for how many years?) because they were white. If they were black or muslim, nobody would have had a problem with the raid. As for Elian, his mother kidnapped him from the legal custody of his father. Returning him to his father after her death was the right thing to do. People hate on Reno for political reasons (needed to find SOMEBODY in the Clinton cabinet around whom we can rally hate), but she did the right thing.

      • I don’t think anyone is arguing that David Koresh wasn’t nuts. The argument is of Janet’s handling and outright idiocy to raid the way she instructed the ATF perform. There were far better ways to handle this. If she had military, SWAT or even police training to best assert of the safest way to disarm them I’m sure the situation would have a completely different outcome. There were many innocent victims that perished as a result of horrendous handling of the situation.

  • Sadly, Janet Reno’s tenure as attorney general left only one thing as a lasting legacy: it forever cheapened what “taking full responsibility” means among U.S. public servants and political appointees. She should have fallen on her sword the moment she used potential child abuse to justify her decision to escalate actions against the Branch Davidians.

    • It wasn’t “potential” child abuse, it was actual child abuse. And nobody in this country has the “option” to decline being arrested, so I don’t know why you would believe a child-raping cultist should have that right. And while the FBI tried to wait them out for 51 days, the reality is crazy Koresh was going to kill his people no matter how long the FBI waited or did not wait. Your outrage should be at Koresh, not Reno. But like I said in an earlier post, the whole criticism of Reno was politically-motivated. If the FBI HADN’T tried to arrest a child rapist stockpiling weapons in his compound, the republicans would have criticized her for that too.

      • Again, there are far easier way to catch bees…try using honey first.

        In the ’90’s cops managed to nab quite a few violators by mailing them prize award claims. They showed up only to get arrested for outstanding warrants. Again, anyone with any intelligence knows how to bait and easily catch criminals if you know where they’re at. There was no need for a communist dictator style mass execution.

        • Yeah, they were going to give um themselves for a potential free Cancun vacation……what type of an entirely effete ignoramus would even suggest such tomfoolery?

        • Ikefromeli – since you claim to be a scholar and PhD alumni from Yale, why don’t you share with us your solution that would have been best to handle the Waco incident.

        • The exercise of hind sight always has the attribute of clairvoyance as it’s traveling partner.

        • Ikefromeli — I see, someone at the mental ward finally gave you a book to read. Congratulations for reading back exact quotes from fictional extra terrestrial alien abduction books. Shows what a nut job shill poster you turned out to be.

        • I love the lazy and awkward sentence structure ending in prepositions, even in Halawa Housing we were taught that’s a lazy no-no.

      • ryan02,

        You ignore or don’t care about the fact that child (sexual) abuse at the local level was never the purview of the federal government. Janet Reno simply needed any sort of justification to execute a politically motivated bad decision.

        Also, it would help you considerably if you actually learned and understood how the Waco/Branch Davidian situation evolved. Local law enforcement (sheriff or chief of police) was puzzled at the ATF approach to David Koresh. “Why don’t you fellas just wait until he makes his regular visit to town and arrest him there?” is what I recall was said. Also, there was very little justification for a military-style assault to serve a search warrant.

        And in case it matters to you, the Branch Davidians operated a fully legal gun and gun parts business at the time. They made efforts to be compliant with federal regulations.

        • Exactly! Thank you DeltaDag! That was my recollection of the entire situation as
          I watched it daily in shock of how inept, corrupt and evil this crazy woman’s actions were in one of the most tragic government follies in our recent lifetime.

        • If they arrested Koresh in town, what do you think his cultists would have done to the kids back at the compound after their leader was arrested? The FBI would have had to end up at the compound no matter what. And if Koresh had a shootout in town with innocent bystanders around, the republicans would have criticized Reno for that too. The criticism was politically-motivated, and easy to convince average Americans because the criminals involved were white.

        • Oh, and also – “child (sexual) abuse at the local level was never the purview of the federal government” — it is if any of the kids crossed state lines. HOWEVER, assuming for the sake of argument that you are correct and the child sex abuse was something for the local police to handle, WHY are you quoting the local sheriff or police chief as if they are some sort of wise men who knew better than Reno, when they never arrested the child rapist in the first place?

        • ryan02,

          The sheriff, being the local on the scene representative of law enforcement, did not understand why the ATF could not have simply served a search warrant at the Davidian compound if the point was to document the presence of illegal weapons. The issue was why the ATF ignored the peaceful option of respectfully knocking on their door as the sheriff himself had done many times before.

          As for David Koresh’s regular appearances in town, it has never been proven he went into Waco armed or surrounded by an armed contingent of minions. He might’ve been in the company of other Branch Davidians, but I have seen no evidence that they were packin’ heat and spoiling for an armed confrontation. It always was just a matter of taking care of mundane business.

          Are there any other questions?

  • Janet Reno has passed and she will be missed.

    Unfortunately, now the Corporatocracy that runs our country is breathing a huge sigh of relief.

    Doesn’t matter if trump or billiary wins – ssdd – the middle class will get the shaft.

      • Beg to differ. A dear friend of mine, who happened to be a Vietnam Vet and helicopter pilot, said that he saw the exact same type of tank mounted flame throwers used in Nam that were used against the Branch Davidians. I will listen to his expert testimony over anyone else, especially Janet Reno.

  • The Waco massacre and Ruby Ridge murders were under the reign of Janet Reno and she is directly responsible for all the lives that were needlessly lost.
    Don’t forget that the Federal government’s attack on its own citizens in both incidents reportedly influenced Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols to bomb the Federal building in Oklahoma
    City in 1995. A third man, Michael Fortier was convicted for failing to report McVeigh and Nichols plan to bomb the building. It is believed by some that others involved in the
    bombing were never identified and that these unidentified individuals were agents of the federal government who helped with the bombing ( a false flag operation) so as to justify
    the Federal government’s crackdown on patriot and militia groups and the 2nd Amendment restricting the rights of citizens to possess firearms.
    I remember seeing the ATF’s attack at Waco and I was very angered by the unprovoked raid and attack on the Branch Davidians. The ATF was by then a totally our of control
    federal agency and viewed themselves as a law unto themselves and they still act in the same way today. I see them as nothing more than jack booted thugs hiding behind
    the color of law and a badge.
    The infamous “Fast & Furious” gun running operation by which large amounts of guns were sold and smuggled to Mexico for the drug cartels was an undercover operation run by
    the ATF. This was intended to create chaos in Mexico and the border states and to be used as an excuse by the Federal government to attack the 2nd Amendment.
    When the government acts in such a lawless and immoral way, it loses all respect and credibility from its citizens.
    I used to believe and trust the government at one time but after what happened at Waco, Ruby Ridge and Fast and Furious, I no longer do. I am awake now and I do hope
    all of you out there wake up as well. Sadly, our country has changed and it has not been for the better.

    • What part? Women not being able to vote? Blacks and Jim Crow laws? High infant mortality? Greater communicable diseases? 10 percent plus on home mortgages? Greater crime? Society less educated and less access to educational institutions? Less parity for communities of color? Less society social nets?

      Seems like many folks who subscribe to this type of revisionism, a lot better for white folks would be the more apt phrase?

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