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For all the poignancy of the memorial to the victims of the bombing in Oklahoma City, what grips the heart the fiercest is what was left in the wake of the blast. On the wall of a building adjacent to what was once was the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a rescue worker sifting through the rubble on April 19, 1995, scrawled this message: We search for the truth. We seek justice. The courts require it. The victims pray for it. And God demands it! The writer got his wish. The men responsible for the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history were caught, tried, and convicted by lawyers from the Justice Department. Last week, in fact, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh asked to be executed. But in spite of that, when ground was broken for this memorial two years ago, Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, told the attorney general of the United States not to bother even showing up. “It doesn’t seem right,” an editorial in the paper declared, “that Janet Reno will turn a spade in such a hallowed ground.” Reno, of course, came anyway. She told the victims and survivors present that they had “touched the hearts and souls of an entire nation and inspired us all.” Then, she turned some earth. There are no easy victories for Janet Reno. Even here, in a place where she had enjoyed a clear triumph over her doubters, shadows were cast. Her perhaps most unequivocal success will eternally be linked to her darkest hour: the conflagration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, two years prior to the Oklahoma City bombing. It was McVeigh’s anger over the FBI raid at Waco that many felt was the motive for the Oklahoma attack. “Most Oklahomans think there was a connection,” says the man who defended McVeigh, Oklahoma lawyer Stephen Jones. “Waco was Janet Reno’s Bay of Pigs. Her experience with Waco impacted everything after it.” If Waco marked the first chapter of Reno’s career as attorney general, last April’s raid on a Miami house to recover Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez made for an eerie bookend. Too much so for the lawyer who sued the Justice Department over the deaths of the Branch Davidians at Waco. Watching the Miami raid on television, Houston’s Michael Caddell thought that Reno “hadn’t learned very much. She has a complete lack of understanding of how to deal with a situation appropriately.” Caddell is right in one respect: Seven years after the Waco disaster, Reno was not afraid to take the same kind of risk that nearly ended her career. THE BUCK STOPS The FBI’s raid on the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 thrust the newly confirmed AG into the public consciousness. For some right-wing extremists in so-called patriot groups, she became the permanent epitome of Clintonian evil and an invasive federal presence. But in the aftermath of the raid, she did two things that won her praise nationwide. She said the responsibility for the raid rested with her. Then, she offered her resignation to President Bill Clinton. Neither thing was politically expedient. And, for a town where political expedience serves as commerce, it seemed bizarre, even naive. “She is transparent. What she says is what she means. It was the kind of thing that drives a lot of people in Washington crazy,” says a former deputy to Reno, Robert Litt. “The Waco thing played right into that.” Not everyone was so charmed. “When the AG offered her resignation,” Stephen Jones says, “the president should have accepted it.” The raid on Waco and its aftermath was where Reno’s mythology began to build. Already she was a curious figure, the female version of a Hemingway archetype: larger-than-life, taciturn, not one for excuses or self-pity, appearing to be some alligator-wrestling backwoods heroine (“Reno: Warrior Princess” became a nickname) who walked, fully formed, out of the Everglades and immediately began prosecuting Miami car jackers. She seemed awkward, oversized, alone — accustomed to the glare of the public spotlight, but not warm to it. A maiden aunt you could visualize holding a flak-jacket and an M-16. Not well-known nationally, nor carrying the sort of patrician credentials presidents have sought in previous attorneys general, she was President Clinton’s third choice when he plucked her from the state attorney’s office in Miami. Today, it is difficult to envision a Zo� Baird or a Kimba Wood taking the hit for Waco or standing up to Senate Republicans over campaign finance probes — much less simply staying in the job for seven-plus years. That, in Washington, is an achievement in and of itself. No attorney general has served longer in 150 years. No one, save for her role-model Robert Kennedy, has been more identified with the office in the minds of the American public. “She put a human face on the Justice Department in a way that made a difference out there in the country,” says Michael Bromwich, the former DOJ inspector general and frequent Reno critic. “She is like a folk hero out there in a way this town never understood and never appreciated.” People outside Washington gravitated to her, with her public battle with Parkinson’s disease heightening their connection to her. When Reno came to Oklahoma City to break ground for the memorial in 1998, she met with the survivors and victims of the bombing. “She cares deeply about the people who were affected by this tragedy,” says Robert Johnson, a lawyer who serves as chairman of the foundation that oversaw construction of the memorial. “She has great empathy. When she was here for the dedication, you could see it.” And, he adds, “we have great empathy for her. The Parkinson’s doesn’t keep her from doing the job.” She, in her own way, emerged as an iconic figure in American culture. For years, six-foot-three comedian Will Ferrell has played Reno on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” most often as the host of “Janet Reno’s Dance Party.” An actress playing Reno was even a supporting character on Fox’s “Ally McBeal” for a series of episodes a few years ago, romantically linked with a lawyer in Ally’s law firm. Even the punk band The Offspring sang the following in this year’s “Original Prankster”: Crime crime Rockin’ like Janet Reno Time time Eighteen and life in Chino It’s hard to imagine a punk band writing a song about Edwin Meese or Richard Thornburgh. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT When she took responsibility in the aftermath of Waco, says former Associate Deputy Attorney General Litt, now a partner at Arnold & Porter, “she had a tremendous amount of public credibility based on the kind of person she was.” But the honeymoon didn’t last long — at least in Washington. Reno was soon viewed by Republicans as a politically sensitive prosecutor — more interested in protecting Clinton than doing her job — when she initially declined to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the Whitewater land deal. But when, in 1994, she changed her mind and appointed the first Whitewater counsel, Robert Fiske (who would later yield to Kenneth Starr), her relationship with the White House was never the same. In only her second year on the job, it became clear that the former Florida prosecutor had very few friends anywhere. One of them, however, was Miami lawyer Aaron Podhurst, who has known Reno for more than 20 years. “Janet Reno is a unique human being,” Podhurst says. “Anyone who really knows her knows she has ultimate integrity. Any decision she has made has always been because she believes it, not because anyone pressured her.” Reno, in almost eight years in office, has never once been accused of an ethical breach. It was widely expected she would lose her job after Clinton was re-elected in 1996. She didn’t, but allegations of improper fund raising during Clinton’s campaign would dominate her final years in office. Senate Republicans launched two extensive investigations of her steadfast refusal to appoint a special counsel to investigate the alleged campaign abuses. One, led by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., dragged on into the current presidential campaign, and Reno was publicly embarrassed this spring by a leaked memo written by FBI Director Louis Freeh in which he disagreed with the attorney general’s decision. Much of her tenure has been spent trucking up to Capitol Hill to testify before hostile congressional committees — albeit never saying much. “Some may not admit it, but she has amazed and impressed everyone by her ability to stand tall for so long in the partisan cross hairs and to withstand unprecedented political pressure from Capitol Hill,” says Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There were other missteps. Earlier this year, the Justice Department abandoned its aggressive prosecution of Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee after determining it didn’t have enough evidence to convict him on espionage. And the Waco raid continued to haunt Reno after the FBI admitted in 1999 that it had used incendiary devices during the raid after having denied using them for six years. But Reno, true to her stolid image, never made excuses or offered apologies. Not to Lee and his family. Not to the survivors at Waco. Not to Congress. Not to the White House. “After all that has happened, she is unrepentant,” says Michael Caddell. INSTITUTIONAL BEHAVIOR She has run the Justice Department for the longest time of any attorney general in the 20th century. But when it comes to bureaucracies, legacies are fleeting things. Under Reno, the Justice Department expanded at an explosive rate. Fueled mainly by the 1994 crime bill, the budget doubled. New grant programs like COPS were established. Divisions like antitrust and civil rights were revitalized. Administratively, however, she made no dramatic impact. Reno, by all accounts, was no control-freak manager. Her style was never to laser-target initiatives and then quarterback them through to completion. Instead, she would identify reams of priorities, leaving her subordinates to worry about the follow-through. One virtue of her tenure that will survive will be her impact on the infrastructure of the department. The mere fact that she has been on the job twice or three times as long as the average attorney general means that she has been afforded time to invest in the well-being of the department in a way no predecessor has bothered. She modernized computer systems and created intergroup law enforcement working groups that allowed the DOJ’s slippery fiefdoms like the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to work together. She funded and supported the Office of the Inspector General, despite its role as a DOJ watchdog. Her most concrete legacy to her successors may be Main Justice’s aging Art Deco headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue. Reno pushed ahead with plans for a full-scale renovation of the building, one that has forced sections of it to be closed for months at a time. She relocated herself — and her office — to help facilitate the remodeling. But the nature of power means that, for the most part, policy can become an easy victim to politics. Reno’s Republican successor will have a freedom to fashion his or her priorities regardless of whether they are consistent with Reno’s. And the mission of most of the career lawyers won’t be affected much either way. INTO THE SUNSET As the winter of the Clinton administration deepens and headlines blare of a Bush victory, here, then, is the final question concerning Attorney General Janet Reno: Does she get to go home? Before last year, there was little question that Reno would return to South Florida at the end of her tenure. But that was before Elian Gonzalez washed ashore from Cuba. Before Reno became, in the eyes of most Americans, in loco parentis for the six-year-old political pi�ata. It was before she ordered, on Easter weekend, a raid into the home of the Miami relatives keeping the boy. But unlike in Waco, no one was hurt. And Elian was successfully reunited with his father and returned to Cuba. The Cuban-American community in Miami, however, has a long memory, and there has been some talk locally that the AG would not be welcome. Reno’s friend Podhurst, who was on the phone with the Justice Department trying to negotiate a deal to hand over the boy even as federal agents broke down the door and seized him, says that Reno “is going to come back here. She’s not going to be deterred.” Ramon Raul Sanchez, a Cuban-American activist in Miami who was injured in the raid at the home of Elian’s relatives, believes Reno will not have to fear returning to her home town. “A lot of people want to put this thing behind them,” Sanchez says. “I’ve been in places where the subject has come up. Maybe there will be some uproar. But there is a duty on our side to help people understand she should be treated as a human being.” So, she is finally leaving. Although she says that she won’t be the one “turning the lights off” at the Justice Department next month, as she said earlier this month at her weekly press conference, she plans on working right up to the point when President-elect George W. Bush is inaugurated. Aides say she is working as hard as she ever has. She departs later, literally by years, than anyone expected — or predicted. Betting on Janet Reno lasting the entire Clinton administration was a sucker bet. For fools only. She proved everyone wrong.

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