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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Reno has survived Washington so far, but China probe may be different

By Candy Crowley/CNN

May 24, 1999
Web posted at: 6:32 p.m. EDT (2232 GMT)

WASHINGTON (May 24) -- Attorney General Janet Reno is once again under fire, this time over her Justice Department's handling of the China spying investigation. One prominent Republican senator called the probe inept at best. But, he added, Reno will get away with it because she's a sympathetic character.

Certainly, the attorney general is a survivor. At any given point in her six-year Washington career, somebody has wanted Reno out.

The first calls for her resignation came about a month after she got the job in 1993. Four federal agents and 85 members of a religious cult -- including 25 children -- were killed during an FBI effort to end a standoff in Waco, Texas.

Her un-Washingtonian response pretty much closed the discussion. "I made the decision," Reno said. "I'm accountable. The buck stops with me."

That kind of talk made the nation's first female attorney general a popular, folklorish figure outside the Beltway -- and a political frustration inside of it.

"If I don't have this job," Reno once said, "I go home to Miami."

She defies political gravity. She has survived White House attempts to ease her out following the first term because the Clinton Administration felt she is too quick to ask for independent counsel investigations -- seven so far.

She has brushed off repeated Republican calls for her ouster because they think she has not been quick enough to ask for an independent counsel in the campaign fund-raising case.

But the China espionage case may be different.

First, there is a hint of bipartisan displeasure. Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey), one of the president's most ardent supporters, has stopped short of a call for resignation but he got close.

"I think it's time for President Clinton to have a conversation with the attorney general about her ability to perform her duties and whether or not it is in the national interest for her to continue," Torricelli said.

Second, Washington is entering a political season. In the Byzantine world of politics, scenarios can be drawn in which both parties could use a Reno resignation to their advantage.

For Republicans, Reno leaving under fire would reflect badly on a Democratic White House they dearly want back.

For Democrats, Reno might be tempting a sacrificial lamb. If it looks like Vice President, and presidential hopeful, Al Gore is going to take a hit for a bumbled China investigation, few doubt that the Clinton Administration would push the attorney general out the door to ease the pressure on Gore. It would be better still for the White House if it looks as though Republicans were the ones who wanted her out.

The scenarios don't end there. Some Capitol Hill politicos suggest the White House would rather see the hot lights on Reno's Justice Department because it keeps it away from National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Many Republicans believe Berger's gravely underestimated the gravity of the China situation.


Committee says Chinese spying likely 'continues to this day'

China rejects 'cooked-up' spying report

U.S. and China share long history of distrust

White House defends Reno, Berger in nuclear secrets case (5-24-99)

Shelby: Reno should resign over China espionage probe (5-23-99)


Department of Justice

Department of Energy

White House


Nuclear secrets


Monday, May 24, 1999

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