Janet Reno: Those Kids Are So Eager

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Last Friday Time correspondent Elaine Shannon interviewed Janet Reno in the office at the Justice Department:

Q. Were you urged to tone down your remarks during confirmation to be more politically acceptable to the middle?

A. A lot of people had different advice on how I should handle confirmation hearings, and I said basically that I had to be myself. I talked about the things I cared about.

Q. Some mid-level people at the White House have been criticizing you privately about being too liberal.

A. Those kids are so eager, and they like to talk in labels. But they haven't been involved in prosecutor's offices and worked on the streets, and understood how you have to have enough prison cells to punish people for the length of time the judges are sentencing them, and develop alternative sanctions as well.

Q. They say you shouldn't have brought up your criticism of mandatory sentencing so early, because that is viewed as soft on crime.

A. What we're faced with in America now is that the dangerous offenders are getting out because other offenders are in ((prison)) on minimum mandatories for nonviolent offenses. What we all have to do is use our prison cells to house the truly dangerous offenders, the major traffickers, the major distributors. In other words, we need to have a punishment that fits the crime. We've got to have alternative sentences. We've got to explore preventative programs.

Q. Are you trying to build a consensus on this? Is that why you're making so many speeches?

A. One of the things I tried to do as state attorney was to be accessible, not to be remote, not to close my door. I think it's important that people feel that the Attorney General can be accessible to them so that she knows what's happening on the streets of America and not just what's happening in the halls of the Department of Justice.

Q. You advised your Justice employees not to be demagogic. Do you think there's been too much demagoguery on the drug issue?

A. I think it's important that we look not with labels, not with shorthand terms, not with partisan politics but with good, hard-nosed common sense, that we make sure we fund what we think can work so that we don't do it halfway.

Q. How much clout are you having on appointments?

A. I'm having a lot of clout.

Q. Some people have said that ((informal Clinton adviser)) Susan Thomases or Hillary Clinton seems to have chosen a lot of the appointments.

A. When I was nominated, I was told that the White House had some people they wanted in position. I said, "Well, I'm not going to be able to live with that if I don't particularly care for somebody or if I want somebody." They said, "We'll work it out." And I've been entirely satisfied ever since. I'm not trying to do anything except give the President the best advice I can give him. So far, he's been very receptive to it.