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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK

World: Americas

Waco comes back to haunt Reno

The longest-serving Attorney General this century begins her tenure

The stand-off at Waco in Texas put Janet Reno on the spot shortly after she took office as the first woman US attorney-general.

Within a month, she gave the go-ahead for federal agents to conduct the final raid on the Branch Davidian compound.

A fire broke out, consuming the cult's headquarters and killing more than 80 people.

She silenced criticism by accepting full responsibility. "I made the decision. I'm accountable. The buck stops with me."

She answered without spin or apology, and it gave her a certain level of popularity and political security.

Now, six years on, the Waco deaths have come back to haunt her with the reports that FBI agents may have fired flammable tear gas into the cult compound.

Her vehement statement that she intended to "get to the bottom" of the matter suggested that it is close to her heart.

Asked if she thought the reversal of position had harmed her position, the attorney-general replied: "I don't think it's very good for my credibility, and that's why I am going to pursue it until I get to the truth."

Rough and ready role models

Janet Reno's path from her childhood home on the edge of the Everglades in Florida to the highest law enforcement office in the US demonstrated her drive and determination.

Her parents provided her with role models of tenacity and toughness - and an early acquaintance with law enforcement.

Her father, Henry Reno, spent 43 years as a police reporter for the Miami Herald.

Her mother, Jane Wood Reno, raised her four children before becoming an investigative reporter for the Miami News.

Jane Wood Reno was a female version of the classic hard-drinking, chain-smoking reporter, who also hunted and wrestled alligators.

Woman in a man's world

In 1960, Janet Reno enrolled in Harvard Law School. She was one of only 16 women in a class of more than 500 students.

But despite graduating from one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, she had difficulty finding work.

One of Miami's largest law firms denied her a position because she was a woman. Fourteen years later, the same firm would make her a partner.

In November 1978, after holding a number of public positions, she was elected to the office of State Attorney in Florida. She was re-elected four more times.

Bipartisan criticism

[ image: Appointed too many independent counsels - or too few?]
Appointed too many independent counsels - or too few?
In 1993, President Clinton nominated her to become attorney-general. But she was his third choice for the post and has never enjoyed his unqualified support.

She appointed seven independent counsels to investigate him and other senior administration officials.

No previous attorney-general has named so many special prosecutors. But this has not been enough to endear her to the president's Republican foes.

They criticised her for not appointing more independent counsels to investigate campaign finance discrepancies.

But she has survived the political bullets to become the longest-serving attorney-general this century - and President Clinton's most durable cabinet member.

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