First woman US attorney general, Janet Reno dies in Miami

News Hour:

The first woman to be US attorney general, Janet Reno, has died at home in Miami from complications linked to Parkinson’s disease, US media say.

Ms Reno, 78, was at the centre of several political crises while serving under President Bill Clinton between 1993 and 2001, reports BBC.

She was criticised for a deadly raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas after just weeks in office. Sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers were killed during the raid. Questions were asked afterwards about the legality of the FBI raid and why it was that so many people were killed.

Janet Reno, the first female United States Attorney General, stands with former US President Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 15, 1993

Janet Reno, the first female United States Attorney General, stands with former US President Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 15, 1993

Ms Reno survived the aftermath of the raid to become the longest-serving attorney-general in the 20th Century from 1993-2001 – and one of President Clinton’s most trusted cabinet members.

She also continued to work despite being diagnosed in 1995 with Parkinson’s disease, which caused trembling in both her arms.

After Waco, Ms Reno played a role in some of the more high-profile controversies and scandals that rocked the Clinton administration, including:

  • The Whitewater affair, a failed real estate project in which the Clintons had invested
  • The “Travelgate” scandal, in which Hillary Clinton was allegedly involved in several controversial sackings in the White House travel office in 1993
  • Flawed forensics at the FBI laboratory, in which the agency was accused of errors in evidence provided by its forensics laboratory to US courts to help secure high profile convictions
  • The Monica Lewinsky case, in which Bill Clinton was impeached over his affair with a White House intern
  • Accusations in the late 1990s that China had gained access to American nuclear secrets
  • Irregularities in campaign financing during the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign

Towards the end of her career in the spring of 2000, Ms Reno angered her hometown’s Cuban-American community by authorising the armed seizure of a 5-year-old boy who was taken from his relatives’ home in Miami to be returned to his father in Cuba.

Ms Reno – a self-described “awkward old maid” who was nearly 6ft 2in (1.8m) tall – will be remembered for her cautious but blunt style, on one occasion famously telling reporters: “I don’t do spin.”

Civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson tweeted that Ms Reno was a “personal friend, trailblazer {and] justice seeker”.

Her biographer, Paul Anderson, earlier described her as “outspoken, outrageous, absolutely indifferent to others’ opinions… truly one of a kind”.

Ms Reno also won accolades outside Washington for her plain-spoken manner and folksiness, the Washington Post reports, which included her preference for kayaking on the Potomac River to “hobnobbing on the political cocktail circuit”.

She will also be remembered for her frequently recited childhood stories from the Everglades swamps of Florida with a mother who wrestled alligators, the newspaper reports, to a home which included a family of peacocks, all named Horace.

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