Janet Reno, one of the longest serving Attorneys General in American history, has died.
Janet Reno, who rose from a rustic life on the edge of the Everglades to become attorney general of the United States — the first woman to hold the job — and whose eight years in that office placed her in the middle of some of the most divisive episodes of the Clinton presidency, died on Monday at age 78.
She died at her home in Miami-Dade County, Fla., from complications of Parkinson’s disease, according to her sister, Margaret Hurchalla. The disease was diagnosed in November 1995, while she was still in office.
Ms. Reno’s tenure as attorney general was bracketed by two explosive events: a deadly federal raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco, Tex., in 1993, and the seizing in 2000 by federal agents of Elián González, a young Cuban refugee who was at the center of an international custody battle and a political tug of war.
In those moments, and others in between, Ms. Reno was applauded for a straightforward integrity and a willingness to accept responsibility, but she was also fiercely criticized. Republicans accused her of protecting President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore when, in 1997, she refused to allow an independent counsel to investigate allegations of fund-raising improprieties in the White House.
My opinion on Reno’s tenure is definitely mixed. On the one hand, she presided over the prosecutions of the terrorists responsible for the first WTC attack and Oklahoma City. She bucked Clinton a number of times by handing investigations over to the Independent Prosecutor that he wanted squashed, such as the Lewinsky matter.
On the other hand, she supported garbage lawsuits against the tobacco industry and Microsoft. She authorized the Elian Gonzales raid and the Branch Davidian raid (although she took responsibility for the Waco disaster). She wrecked Richard Jewell’s life and, as Dade County State Attorney, helped create the Miami Method that results in numerous bogus convictions of innocent people on child molestation charges.
When I look over her career though, the thing that stands out is that she was her own person. She made decisions based on what she felt was right, alternatively angering people within the Clinton Administration and in Congress when she didn’t agree with them. She has a sense of humor about herself and took responsibility for her decisions. For that, at least, I’ll wish her to RIP.