Truth, Justice and the Reno Way

Clinton's popular, straight-talking Attorney General wants to revolutionize law enforcement, but will the White House let her?

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Reno did win the battle to name her own pick for the crucial Criminal Division, pulling in Jo Ann Harris, 60, a distinguished former prosecutor from New York, and Doris Meissner, an immigration-reform specialist, to head the INS. And, says a close adviser, "Janet has had total veto power over everyone. But she's not going to keep score. She doesn't think in those terms, and you couldn't get her to talk in those terms." Friends say Reno has no regrets about not being part of Clinton's inner circle. As a White House aide remarked, "The inner circle has shrunk to the size of a Cheerio, anyway."


Lacking her own power base, Reno is spending much of her time campaigning for the issues she cares most about. Wedged into her busy days are speeches to government, law-enforcement and community groups whose help will be crucial to building the consensus she needs. She is fighting hardest on two fronts: children's issues and cooperation among government agencies. "We spend more money trying to determine whether people are eligible for services than we do in serving them," Reno says. "We've got to figure out how to take the federal bureaucracy and weave it together as a whole, so that we can reweave the fabric of society around our children."

In her years as a prosecutor, Reno saw firsthand the link between a miserable child and a vicious adult. She fought for better children's services, from health care to day care to preschool education, all on the grounds of crime prevention. She set up a one-stop child-support center, with everything from counselors and law-enforcement officials to medical personnel for drawing blood to confirm paternity. She was one of the first prosecutors around to come down hard on scofflaw spouses who skipped out on child support, prompting a disgruntled father to scrawl threatening graffiti on a sign near her home. Some critics charge that in her zeal she went too far; in 1984 her office came under fire for forcing confessions and railroading defendants in a high-profile child-abuse case.

Reno's prescriptions go well beyond the legal realm. She has advocated workdays that end at 3 p.m. so that parents can be home when their children get out of school. "There are children who, after school and in the evenings, are unsupervised and adrift and alone and fearful," she said last May in a speech to the Women's Bar Association. "And they are getting into trouble, and they are being hurt." Reno draws freely on the lessons of her own family. "It was my mother, who worked in the home, who taught us to bake cakes, to play baseball, to appreciate Beethoven's symphonies," she says. "She spanked us hard, and she loved us with all her heart. And there is no child care in the world that will ever be a substitute for what that lady was in our life."

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