Janet Reno, first female US attorney general, dies at 78 – USA TODAY
Former Attorney General Janet Reno has died from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Reno was Attorney General during the Clinton administration. She was 78. (Nov. 7)
Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general whose tenure spanned some of the most tumultuous periods in American life, died. Â She was 78.
Her goddaughter, Gabrielle D’Alemberte, told the Associated Press that she died early Monday from complications related to Parkinson’s disease.
Reno arrived in Washington in 1993 as a relatively unknown Â prosecutor from Miami â newly-elected President Bill Clintonâs third choice to lead the sprawling Justice Department â whose apolitical ways and hulking physical stature both endeared her to supporters and made her a perennial target of administration critics.
The second-longest serving attorney general in history, Renoâs Justice Department was thrust into a nearly unending series of tests, from the governmentâs deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and the first World Trade Center attack investigation to the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and the international custody battle for a Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez.
Her improbable political survival during a grueling eight years in office, while also battling Parkinsonâs disease, may be the most striking aspect of her tenure.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, said Reno served as “an inspiration and a trailblazer for so many women serving in law enforcement and government, including me.”
A portrait of Reno hangs in Lynch’s fifth-floor conference room.
“The Department of Justice has lost one of the most effective, decisive, and well-respected leaders in its proud history,” Lynch said. “She led the department in a time of turmoil and change, confronting issues ranging from international and domestic terrorism to fair competition in the emerging technology sector.Â In meeting these challenges, she was guided by one simple test: to do what the law and the facts required.Â She accepted the results of that test regardless of which way the political winds were blowing.Â She never shied from criticism or shirked responsibility, earning her the affection of her subordinates, the respect of her critics, and the esteem of the American people.”
Former attorney general Eric Holder, who served as Reno’s top deputy during part of her tenure, said Reno “stood out as a person of integrity and enduring values.”
“Janet Reno was my colleague, my inspiration and my dear friend,” Holder said. “Hers was a uniquely American life and was well lived.”
The daughter of Miami newspaper reporters, Reno was plucked from the trenches of Floridaâs criminal justice system only after Clintonâs first two candidates for the job as the nationâs chief law enforcement officer â corporate lawyer Zoe Baird and federal judge Kimba Wood â were upended by questions over payments to nannies.
She was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in a 98-0 vote, yet questions about her own readiness for the task came just 38 days into her tenureÂ when the governmentâs final assault on the Branch Davidian sect, which the new attorney general helped oversee, left 80 people dead in a smoldering ruin.
The botched operation, which Reno would later describe as her worst moment in office, brought calls for her resignation, which she offered, though it was rejected by Clinton.
The stunning bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, then-the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, would follow two years later, plunging the nation into an examination of a largely unseen threat from an anti-government movement roiling within the country.
Born in 1938 in Miami, Reno gained a bachelorâs degree from Cornell University in 1960 before attending Harvard Law School.
Reno, who stood more thanÂ 6 feet tall,Â said she wanted to become a lawyer âbecause I didnât want people to tell me what to do.â
She served as prosecutor for Dade County, Fla., from 1978 to 1993.
After winning confirmation as attorney general, she called the moment an “extraordinary experience, and I hope I do the women of America proud.”
She was famed for telling reportersÂ âI donât do spin” and often told the public âthe buck stops with me.â
Reno’s tenure also was marked by political furor, similar to the controversy that now shadows the Justice Department’s management of the Hillary Clinton email inquiry.
Sixteen years ago,Â Reno rejected a recommendation to appoint a special counsel to investigate theÂ campaign fundraising activities of Vice President Al Gore, then the Democratic presidential nominee, a decision that infuriated Republicans and shadowed the 2000Â general election campaign to its historically disputed end.
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The events of her tenure seemed unrelenting.
In 2000, Reno enraged Miamiâs Cuban-American community by authorizing the armed seizure of 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez from the home of his relatives so he could be returned to Cuba with his father.
The tense international custody battle occupied Reno and the Justice Department for weeks before she finally approved the pre-dawn raid.
Myron Marlin, a former Justice spokesman who served during some of the roughest moments of Reno’s tenure, described her as “a truly remarkable woman.”
“Fiercely independent, honest, above politics, smart, tough as nails,” Marlin said.
While her actions during myriad seminal events drew the most attention, her spare personal style was just as striking.
Appearances never mattered. She preferred simple suits and just a dab of lipstick. Her preparation for a photo session with USA TODAY amounted to a single swipe through her short, low-maintenance hairdo with a borrowed brush. “OK, I’m ready.”
She walked to work and often did so before dawn, trailed by FBI bodyguards. She accepted the fact that advancing Parkinson’s disease had caused her to lose control of her hands at times, and she didn’t care if that made anyone uncomfortable.
Her quiet, no-nonsense manner ultimately was celebrated with a regular parody on Saturday Night Live, called âJanet Renoâs Dance Party.ââ The skit featured Will Ferrell, dressed in a Reno standard royal blue dress and pearls. She embraced the parody and joined the cast to share in the fun.
Reno, who unsuccessfully ran for Florida governor in 2002, never enjoyed dealing with reporters, though when she did if often featured references to her deceased mother, Jane Reno, known as a coarse character who built the family home at the edge of the Florida Everglades.
Asked once how her mother would assess her performance as attorney general, Reno said: “After scoffing, she would have said she was very, very proud of me.”