(Reuters) – Blunt-spoken Janet Reno, who served eight years as the first woman US attorney general and authorized the deadly 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound in Texas just weeks into the job, died yesterday at age 78.
Reno died in Miami of Parkinson’s disease complications, according to her goddaughter, Gabrielle D’Alemberte. Reno was diagnosed with the progressive central nervous system disorder in 1995.
Reno served as the United States’ top law enforcement official during Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency from 1993 to 2001, becoming the longest-tenured attorney general of the 20th century.
She authorized the seizure by federal agents in 2000 of 6-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez from relatives in Miami, as well as the government’s huge antitrust case against Microsoft Corp in 1998.
“Janet Reno was an American original, a public servant whose intellect, integrity and fierce commitment to justice helped shape our nation’s legal landscape,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Clinton said yesterday, “As attorney general for all eight years of my presidency, Janet worked tirelessly to make our communities safer, protect the vulnerable, and to strike the right balance between seeking justice and avoiding abuse of power.”
The former Miami prosecutor, picked by Clinton only after his first two choices for the job ran into trouble, 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.
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 Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas.