Reeling from escalating attacks by Congress and embarrassing slights by the White House, the normally stoic Attorney General Janet Reno finally lost patience Thursday and lashed out at her tormentors with uncharacteristic fury.
Taking on critics of the Justice Department’s investigation of fundraising abuses, Reno forcefully defended the controversial probe and her role in overseeing it.
“I don’t seek to create headlines or deal in innuendo or mere speculation,” Reno told reporters. “I want to make decisions and build cases that stand the test of time and court review. And no pressure or harsh words or editorials will change my focus.”
The attorney general reserved her most forceful words for the Clinton White House. Although the Justice Department had long ago requested videotapes of President Clinton’s meetings with wealthy supporters, the White House only recently turned them over after a delay Reno said infuriated her.
“I was mad,” Reno said. “When you have a situation where the White House has recognized the responsibility to produce the documents, it is very, very frustrating to have them produced in such a delayed fashion.”
For the close-mouthed, stolid Reno, this was a major outburst. It seemed a clear warning to presidential aides to start showing more cooperation.
And it was another example of the striking tension between the White House and its own Justice Department, a friction that has bedeviled the administration from the outset.
Reno was President Clinton’s third choice for attorney general, and there was no longtime bond between the two. She did not have the advantage of being the president’s sibling, like a predecessor, Robert Kennedy, or the president’s longtime lawyer, as William French Smith was to President Reagan.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, has been thrown into numerous investigations of the White House, which has only intensified the friction. Reno has found herself calling for four independent counsels to investigate the administration of which she is a part - and more may be on the way.