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Janet Reno dead; first female U.S. attorney general was 78

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno testifies before

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno testifies before the 9/11 National Commission at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 13, 2004. Credit: EPA / Joe Marquette


MIAMI — Janet Reno, who was the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general but also became the epicenter of multiple political storms during the Clinton administration, died early Monday. She was 78.

Reno died from complications of Parkinson’s disease, her goddaughter Gabrielle D’Alemberte said, and spent her final days at home in Miami surrounded by family and friends.

A former Miami prosecutor who famously told reporters “I don’t do spin,” Reno served nearly eight years as attorney general under President Bill Clinton, the longest stint in a century.

Her sister, Maggy Reno Hurchalla, said Clinton called over the weekend and said to “tell Janet I love her,” and many others from her career visited or called, including former Florida governor and Sen. Bob Graham. Bill and Hillary Clinton issued a statement praising Reno’s tenure.

President Barack Obama called her “an American original. . . . When Janet Reno arrived in Washington in 1993, the city had never seen anyone like her before — and hasn’t since. Her legacy lives on in a generation of lawyers she inspired, the ordinary lives she touched, and a nation that is more just.”

One of the Clinton administration’s most recognizable and polarizing figures, Reno faced criticism early on 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 blunt manner. Reno frequently said “the buck stops with me,” borrowing the mantra from President Harry S. Truman.

After Waco, Reno figured into some of the Clinton administration’s controversies and scandals, 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 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez. He was taken from the Little Havana home of his Miami relatives so he could be returned to his father in Cuba.

During her tenure, the Justice Department prosecuted the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case, captured “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski that same year and investigated the 1993 terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center. The department also filed a major antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp., and Reno was a strong advocate for protecting abortion clinics from violence.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch praised Reno’s integrity, and called her a trailblazer and “one of the most effective, decisive and well-respected leaders” in Justice Department history.

After leaving Washington, Reno returned to Florida and ran unsuccessfully for Florida governor in 2002 but lost in a Democratic primary marred by voting problems.

Born July 21, 1938, Janet Wood Reno was the daughter of two reporters and the eldest of four siblings. Her brother Robert Reno was a longtime columnist for Newsday. He died in 2012.

She was a Cornell and Harvard Law graduate and was 54 when she won confirmation to lead the Justice Department. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1995.

After retiring from politics, Reno, who had never married, 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 proved innocent through DNA testing.

With Jack Sirica

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