Janet Reno, first U.S. woman attorney
general, dies aged 78
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[November 07, 2016]
By Will Dunham
(Reuters) - Janet Reno, the first woman
U.S. attorney general who served eight tumultuous years with President
Bill Clinton, has died aged 78.
Reno's goddaughter, Gabrielle D'Alemberte, said she succumbed to
complications of Parkinson's disease early on Monday in Miami.
The blunt-spoken lawyer worked as the top U.S. law enforcement official
under Clinton from 1993 to 2001, becoming the longest-serving attorney
general of the 20th century.
Just weeks into the job, she authorized the deadly 1993 raid on the
Branch Davidian cult compound at Waco, Texas.
Reno later authorized federal agents to seize six-year-old Cuban
shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez from relatives in Miami in 2000, and
headed the Justice Department during the government's huge antitrust
case against Microsoft.
The former Miami prosecutor, picked by Clinton after his first two
choices for the job ran into trouble at the confirmation stage,
exhibited an independent streak and a brusque manner that often upset
the White House.
Reno weathered White House complaints that she was not a team player and
that she sought too many special prosecutors to investigate cases,
including the Whitewater affair involving the finances of the president
and first lady Hillary Clinton.
She always said she made decisions based on evidence and the law.
Reno was only 38 days into the attorney general's job when she approved
the April 19, 1993, FBI raid that led to the deaths of about 80 people,
including many children, at the Waco cult compound.
Federal agents had earlier tried to serve a warrant on the cult's
leader, David Koresh, who said he was the Messiah, for stockpiling
weapons. Four agents and six cult members were killed in an ensuing
shootout, leading to a 51-day standoff.
With negotiations at an impasse, Reno gave the go-ahead for the raid
after hearing reports of child abuse in the compound. The raid on the
heavily armed cultists ended in an inferno that engulfed the site.
"I made the decision. I'm accountable. The buck stops with me," a
grim-looking Reno told a later news conference.
Reno took a personal interest in the political tussle over Elian
Gonzalez, the young shipwreck survivor whose mother drowned fleeing
Reno met the boy and his Miami relatives who battled to keep him from
returning to communist Cuba, and his father and grandmothers, who wanted
to raise Gonzalez in his homeland.
Reno argued that Elian belonged with his father and acted after the
Miami relatives defied a U.S. government order to hand him over. She
authorized armed agents to take the boy from his relatives' home in a
pre-dawn raid in April 2000 and re-unite him with his father, who took
him back to Cuba.
The raid infuriated Miami's Cuban exile community, whose members
picketed her home and denounced her as a "witch" and lackey of Cuban
President Fidel Castro.
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Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno testifies before the 9-11
commission in the Hart Senate office building on Capitol Hill in
Washington April 13, 2004. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst MR/JDP
In 1998, Reno's Justice Department brought a huge antitrust case
against Microsoft. Two years later, a federal judge ordered the
breakup of the software giant because it had ignored his ruling that
it had used unlawful monopolistic practices.
The case was settled in 2001 by the administration of George W.
Bush, Clinton's Republican successor, in terms seen as favorable to
Reno appeared with Clinton after the 1995 truck bomb attack on the
Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people, and vowed to
seek the death penalty for the perpetrators.
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001 become the
first federal prisoner executed since 1963. McVeigh said he carried
out the attack to punish the U.S. government for the Waco cult raid
and another raid in Idaho.
Some comedians made fun of Reno during her time in office,
lampooning her appearance and height, around 6 feet 2 inches, among
them Will Ferrell who impersonated her on "Saturday Night Live."
Shortly after leaving office in January 2001 she appeared on the
show next to Ferrell, both wearing identical outfits, in a sketch
called "Janet Reno's Dance Party."
She was diagnosed in 1995 with Parkinson's disease, a progressive
disorder of the central nervous system that caused trembling in her
arms. "All it does is shake and you get used to it shaking after a
while," she told a TV interviewer.
Reno was attorney general throughout Clinton's two terms as
president and was in the job longer than anyone except William Wirt,
who held it from November 1817 until March 1829.
After leaving Washington, Reno returned to Florida and ran for
governor in 2002, but lost in the Democratic primary.
Reno was born on July 21, 1938, in Miami to parents who were
newspaper reporters. She attended public schools in Miami and earned
a chemistry degree at Cornell University in 1960.
She received her law degree from Harvard three years later and
worked as a lawyer in Miami.
(Reporting by Will Dunham and Chris Michaud; Editing by Andrew
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