A laugh at a graveside 3

Janet Reno has died. President Bill Clinton’s attorney-general.

Her obituary in the Washington Post provides comic relief in a time of acute anxiety on the eve of the presidential election that will decide the suicide or survival of Western civilization.

Now as we discuss the obit, please don’t let’s lose sight of what the Democratic Party claims it is all about. Compassion, isn’ it? Championing underdogs – they being Women (poor pathetic creatures), Blacks (picture the victims of the KKK – Oh no, wait! the KKK were all Democrats), illegal immigrants and convicted criminals (both of which classes of persons are universally assumed to be staunch supporters of the Democrats without this being considered any cause for embarrassment).

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Janet Reno, the strong-minded Florida prosecutor tapped by Bill Clinton to become the country’s first female U.S. attorney general, and who shaped the U.S. government’s responses to the largest legal crises of the 1990s, died Nov. 7 at her home in Miami. She was 78.

“Strong-minded”? That’s nice. (I’m strong-minded; you have to get your way; she’s an obstinate martinet.)

Ms. Reno brought a fierce independence to her job.

Have you noticed how people described as “independent” are always said to be “fiercely” so by sloppy writers? Well, in the case of Reno, it may be the right adverb after all.

Now it starts getting rich.

Her supporters believed she brought a heightened level of integrity and professionalism to the attorney general’s office. They admired her insistence on legal exactitude from her employees and praised her caution in prosecutions.

For these alleged qualities, then, she is praised: integrity, legal exactitude, and caution.

“She was a very powerful force for lawfulness,” said Walter E. Dellinger III, a Duke University law professor who served as solicitor general during Ms. Reno’s tenure. “She was always challenging to make sure there was a sound legal basis for what people were doing. And she was adamant about separating the department from politics.”

Was she then universally admired? No.

Business leaders criticized her lengthy prosecution of Microsoft on charges of anti-competitive violations — a case that ultimately ended in a settlement under the George W. Bush administration.

Reno’s DOJ hounded Microsoft as envious competitors tried to bring government in to hobble the company. (See here and here. And this is from the Conclusion of an article in The Independent Review: “It appears that once again the Justice Department is using the antitrust laws to thwart competition by a highly successful American firm. To protect unsuccessful competitors, it is squelching competition.”)  The final settlement, reached after an appeal, did not concede the punitive demands of Reno’s DOJ.

That was a case that may illustrate her fierceness, but is integrity demonstrated by relentlessness?  

What of her “legal exactitude”.

Civil libertarians took Ms. Reno to task for her handling of the espionage case against former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was held in solitary confinement for nine months after being charged with mishandling nuclear secrets, only to be released on a lesser charge. Even Clinton said he was troubled by the case; Ms. Reno refused to apologize.

It’s beginning to look as if “integrity” as applied to Janet Reno is a euphemism for “obstinacy”, and “legal exactitude” for “authoritarian”.     

Republicans criticized her bitterly for pandering to the Clinton White House — she refused, for instance, to launch an independent investigation into whether Vice President Al Gore illegally fundraised from the White House during the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection campaign. …

Ms. Reno remained in office longer than any other attorney general of the 20th century, and won high marks outside the capital for her plain-spoken manner and folksiness: her preference for kayaking on the Potomac River to hobnobbing on Washington’s cocktail circuit; her oft-told childhood stories from the Everglades, with a mother who wrestled alligators; and her home in Florida with a family of peacocks, all named Horace.

More euphemisms? “Plain-spoken manner” for “aggressive tactlessness”? “Oft-told … ” meaning she was a bore?

A self-described “awkward old maid” who stood nearly 6-foot-2, Ms. Reno  … had no children …

But –

… drew praise from Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund and a friend of Hillary Clinton. Edelman reportedly admired Ms. Reno’s aggressive prosecution of child abusers and child-support cases. …

Protecting children would remain a focus of Ms. Reno’s career. …

Let’s keep that in mind. Also that the obituarist notes her “reaching out to black and Latino residents”.

All in line with Democratic Party ideology.

But now we come to the hub of the story of Janet Reno.

Within a month of her appointment, Ms. Reno confronted a case that colleagues said would define the rest of her career: the standoff with followers of self-proclaimed prophet David Koresh at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex.

Incautiously, indeed for no good reason whatsoever – some false rumors of illegal guns, some bad-mouthing by a former member, some sensationalist fiction passing as investigation by a couple of prurient journalists in a local paper – Janet Reno sent some 70 armed bullies of her Schutzstaffel unit (aka the Bureau of Arms, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) to besiege a compound occupied by harmless religious nuts. The siege lasted from February 28 to April 19, 1993. Fifty-one days. Then the shooting began. Koresh’s followers fired back in self-defense and killed 4 of the SS men. Then came the gassing – tear gas introduced through holes drilled in the walls of the compound houses – and finally the burning down of the whole compound with everyone inside it. The burning to death of harmless sectarians. Seventy-six of them died in the fire. Five were shot and killed at the start of the raid, one after it.  The dead included 20 children, 8 of them babies and toddlers. Most were white, but there were some Jamaicans and other Blacks.

Eighty-two people who had done no wrong were hideously murdered by order of Janet Reno. 

Koresh had already killed four federal officers and had withstood a weeks-long standoff with the FBI when agents asked Ms. Reno to authorize a raid of the compound.

“I made the decision,” Ms. Reno said. “I’m accountable. The buck stops with me.”

They say that sort of thing, Democratic officials do. They say, “I take full responsibility for …” this or that outrageous action. But there are no consequences. Their Party does nothing to punish them. Nor do they punish themselves. None of them ever resigns.

She later stood her ground during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, when Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) told her she was right to offer her resignation, saying, “I’d like you to know that there is at least one member of Congress that isn’t going to rationalize the death of two dozen children.”

“I haven’t tried to rationalize the death of children, Congressman,” she responded, glaring, her voice quavering. “I feel more strongly about it than you will ever know. But I have neither tried to rationalize the death of four agents, and I will not walk away from a compound where ATF agents had been killed by people who knew they were agents and leave them unsurrounded. . . . Most of all, Congressman, I will not engage in recrimination.”

What a heroine!

For the rest of Ms. Reno’s career, fringe groups pointed to Waco as evidence of the deadly misuse of federal force.

Timothy McVeigh, responsible for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured scores more, reportedly saw Waco as inspiration for his terrorism.

Although personally opposed to capital punishment, Ms. Reno authorized her prosecutors to seek the death penalty against McVeigh. He was killed by lethal injection in June 2001, the first federal execution since 1963.

That was a death thoroughly deserved. But why did Reno make him an exception to her own principle? Could it have been because he justified his own atrocity by referring to hers? 

The Washington Post’s obituarist continues with a straight face to show just how she “reached out to Latinos”.  How this protector of children did that.

Late in her term as attorney general, Ms. Reno faced similar questions about federal force. The Miami relatives of young Elian Gonzalez, whose mother had drowned as the pair attempted to flee Cuba to the United States, refused to return the child to his father, who wanted to take him back to Cuba.

The saga of Elian held the country’s attention for much of early 2000, with Miami’s Cuban expatriate community adamant that the boy stay in the United States, a federal judge ordering that they return him to his father and Ms. Reno flying to Florida herself to negotiate.

After the Miami family members ignored Ms. Reno’s deadline for them to comply with the judge’s order, she authorized federal agents to enter their home and seize the 6-year-old. A photo of a SWAT-equipped border-patrol agent appearing to point a gun at the young Gonzales in a closet became a much-reproduced image — a visceral symbol of the passions felt on all sides of the debate.

No; an image that vividly illustrates Janet Reno’s fascist authoritarianism. That time she used the SWAT unit of her SS brigades.

After stepping down from the attorney general’s office in 2001, Ms. Reno returned to Florida and the next year ran for governor. …

Ms. Reno narrowly lost the nomination …

Over the next decade, Ms. Reno gave speeches about criminal-justice issues, particularly as they related to children.

She served on the board of the Innocence Project, the nonprofit organization that works to exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA evidence.

Do not the ironies in this obit abound? Remember “the scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was held in solitary confinement for nine months after being charged with mishandling nuclear secrets, only to be released on a lesser charge“?

During her time in the attorney general’s office, she often said that hers had been an exciting, interesting, lucky life.

“I’ve had a thoroughly good time,” she told the Miami Herald in 1998. “I have the opportunity to serve my country, and it’s been extraordinary, and if I go home, I go home.”

A life not so lucky, a time not so thoroughly good for the victims of her integrity, legal exactitude, and caution.

She has “gone home”. She has died.

Her death has immediately produced one good thing. For connoisseurs of irony, her Washington Post obituary is a curiosity not to be missed.

  • Robbie

    That the Democrats were slave owners, and founded the KKK, but yet Republicans are called racist, is a level of irony that never ceases to amaze me.

  • liz

    Yes, aside from Benghazi, I can’t think of any crisis situation the government has handled in a worse way than Waco. The Clinton’s also bear responsibility for that, although of course they let Reno take the fall for it. I can’t imagine having to put up with 8 more years of such Clinton managed disasters.

    • Glad you reminded us of the fact that the Clintons were the ultimate power behind the Waco massacre, liz.