Skip to comments.She's Baaaaaaack! - Reno Redux in Florida
Posted on 10/05/2001 4:23:47 PM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
Janet Reno dismantled the Justice Departments Criminal Division, making it possible for terrorists to penetrate the United States. Now she has her sights set on being the next governor of the Sunshine State.
Political commentators already are calling it the political race of 2002. The Democrats have signaled their intention to throw millions of dollars from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) into the Florida governors race to try to make it a referendum on the first two years of the George W. Bush administration. Self-anointed black spokesmen, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, insist they will seek payback for what they continue to claim was the stolen 2000 presidential election.
But Republican Gov. Jeb Bushs political advisers remain as serene as a Buddha. We are confident, but not complacent, campaign manager Karen Unger tells Insight.
No one doubts that Janet Reno returns to Florida loaded with political baggage after eight years as Bill Clintons scandal-ridden attorney general. For starters, a former senior Justice Department official tells Insight, Reno undermined U.S. national security by diverting resources from the Justice Departments main task of prosecuting criminals.
Reno focused on politically correct issues such as getting the lead out of paint in tenements, or her 0-3 initiative to educate preschool children, the former official says. Reno was constantly going around the country giving speeches on these things and asking the department to focus on them. Under her direction, we spent our resources on sociology experiments, not on prosecution. She had us going hither and yon doing things tangential to our mission. It all came home to roost on Sept. 11.
But anyone who thinks Reno will be a pushover had better think twice. She is a dangerous woman and a ruthless politician. Shes got a file of smears on Jeb Bush and she wont hesitate to use it, says Jack Thompson, a Republican who opposed Reno in 1988 when she ran for re-election as Dade County states attorney, and who says he was a victim of Renos ruthless politicking.
The name Janet Reno conjures images of the worst scandals of the Clinton years, from the burning of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, in April 1993 to the gun-toting federal agents who on Renos orders battered their way into a home and snatched Elian Gonzalez from his family in April 2000 to send him back to Fidel Castro in Cuba.
On Oct. 3, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled that 52 protesters and bystanders may sue Reno in her private capacity for having been gassed, beaten and threatened in contravention of their civil liberties on Renos orders. They allegedly were targeted in Miami by the attorney general because they opposed efforts to seize and return Elian.
Reno also defended the killing of Randy Weavers wife by federal agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the botched investigation of the Atlanta Olympics pipe-bomb case in 1996, when ill-timed leaks led to media persecution of a quiet hero who later was officially cleared of any involvement.
While these alleged constitutional abuses of power might have led to impeachment proceedings under any other president, they were just the prelude to what Renos critics consider her worst behavior in Washington. The true scandal was the cover-up of Chinagate, says Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a public-interest law firm. Here is a case where the president of the United States took money from a foreign power in exchange for special consideration, and yet it was never investigated by prosecutors in an effective way. Reno specifically denied requests from her top people for independent investigations.
Reno invoked the independent-counsel law without hesitation to investigate Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy for accepting petty bribes and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros for lying during his FBI background check about payments to a former mistress. But when the targets of investigation were Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Reno claimed she couldnt find evidence of potential wrongdoing sufficient to trigger the law.
If anything, you can criticize the independent-counsel law because the threshold for triggering it was too low, Fitton says. In the case of Chinagate and the campaign-finance scandal, Reno had no choice under the law but to appoint an independent counsel, but she didnt. She didnt interpret the law; she violated it. The former top Justice Department official adds: Anyone who looked at it in a neutral and unbiased manner would have concluded that she was compelled to appoint an independent counsel. The way these cases were handled was truly, well, extraordinary.
Renos decision to run for office just six months after leaving government belies her true motives, Fitton argues. Obviously she had it in her head that she later would be a Democratic candidate. No candidate for elective office is going to authorize an investigation into the fund-raising practices of his or her party. That explains the cover-up and the obstruction of justice. She was behaving not out of respect for the law but as a politician, Fitton says.
The Clinton attorney generals closest advisers were deeply chagrined when she announced she was running for governor, the former official tells Insight. Janet Reno looked at all the important issues through a highly political lens. This lifts the veil on what she really is: a highly partisan politician.
The Reno scandals at the Justice Department may yet be made into powerful political campaign ads for Republicans, say political observers in Florida. Jeb Bush needs to remind the public of who she is and what shes done, a top Republican Party strategist tells Insight. But some of Bushs best allies in Florida wonder whether the governor has the sand for waging a campaign that Reno loyalists in the media would be certain to paint as the politics of personal destruction.
Certainly the Reno record runs far beyond the Justice Department, deep into Florida politics. After attending Harvard Law School with Michael Dukakis, Reno got her start in the law firm of Steel, Hector and Davis, a hotbed of left-wing activism in crime-ridden Miami. As the protégé of Talbot Sandy DAlembert, a defender of drug lords, she was primed to be successor of Dade County States Attorney Richard Gerstein and was named his assistant in 1978. She was elected to replace him two years later and remained in that office until Clinton selected her as attorney general in 1993.
Ken Harms was Miamis police chief when Reno was states attorney and compares her failure to prosecute Miami drug lords to her prosecutorial zeal in alleged child-sex cases and police brutality, especially when the latter pitted Hispanic cops such as William Lozano against blacks. She went after those officers to appease a constituency, Harms tells Insight.
When Reno took office, Harms says, she had 190 prosecutors under her command and brought roughly 5 percent of felony cases to trial. She claimed her office was inefficient because she had too few prosecutors. But when she left she had 400 prosecutors and the percentage of felony cases brought to trial remained constant at 5 percent, whereas the statewide average was 15 percent.
Renos record as a prosecutor makes it clear that Clinton did not choose her for U.S. attorney general because of her competence but because she was a political partisan who would play ball, Harms tells Insight. If her record didnt measure up against other prosecutors in Florida, it certainly didnt measure up against other prosecutors around the country. The public should know what Clintons reasons were for choosing her.
Renos leniency sent a devastating message to drug lords and violent criminals, say law-enforcement professionals. Damned near everybody who walked through the door felt they could plea-bargain their way out, Harms recalls. Prosecution under Janet Reno just didnt represent a realistic threat to the bad guys.
That didnt mean Reno wasnt a tough prosecutor. She was, just not against hardened criminals. She was a grandstander, say her critics, who showed her grit in the relentless pursuit of alleged child molester Bobby Fijnje, a 14-year-old son of Dutch immigrants who worked as a baby sitter after school in the Presbyterian church where his father was an elder.
The first hint of trouble came early in 1989, when 3-year-old Debbie Smith started behaving abnormally, Readers Digest reporter Trevor Armbrister wrote in a now-famous exposé of the case. The girl was sent to psychologist Suzanne Keeley, who encouraged her to disclose whether anyone had done terrible things to her. Eight weeks into the sessions, Debbie told Keeley that Bobby Fijnje had touched her. The child later explained that Bobbys boisterous games only had scared her, but Bobby was arrested nonetheless.
Though a diabetic, he was interrogated for seven hours without access to insulin until he finally broke down, saying: It just happened. Now can I go home? Given food and insulin he recanted immediately, but it was too late. A two-year legal nightmare had begun (see sidebar).
Janet Reno put 20 assistant prosecutors on that case, recalls Harms. It was an absolute travesty from day one. They finally offered Fijnje to plead guilty on one count, but he refused. After a three-month trial, a jury found the boy innocent of all charges. Reno assistant John Hogan later claimed they lost the case because they hadnt spent enough money on the prosecution. Reno pointed to the case as a shining example of her work on behalf of the children, and the Fijnje case became an important part of her persona, says Harms. Like Hillary Clinton, the childless Reno liked to portray herself in the motherly role of childrens advocate.
It wasnt the only instance where Reno had prosecutors fabricate or manipulate evidence to suit her political agenda, say those close to her office during these days. Early in the 1980s she pioneered a new technique in the prosecution of alleged child-molestation cases: the use of child psychologists to tease memories out of children, using dolls and other suggestive props to act out sexual fantasies.
In the Country Walk child-molestation case, the record shows Reno went one step further, personally harassing the wife of alleged child molester Frank Fuster into testifying against her husband.
To coerce her confession, Reno placed Eliana Fuster, a shapely 19-year-old woman, in solitary confinement, says Jack Thompson, who became Fusters lawyer during her 1986 divorce. She had Eliana stripped naked because she was on a suicide watch and visited her up to 30 times alone, without disclosing the meetings to her defense attorney. This behavior of Reno, both unethical [and] bizarre and possibly perverse, was intended to assure the testimony Reno needed to convict Frank Fuster. When Eliana eventually gave her testimony, Thompson says, Reno showed up and held her hand throughout her deposition. Thats just plain odd.
After her release from jail Eliana Fuster was deported to Honduras, but subsequently sought to return to the United States to recant her confession against her former husband. By that time, Reno had become U.S. attorney general. Reno threatened that if she tried to return to the United States, she would intervene with her successor in Florida to revoke the plea agreement and prosecute her, Thompson says. Janet Reno was micromanaging a Florida state case from the Justice Department in Washington.
And then, there is Thompsons own story.
After his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Reno as Dade County states attorney in 1988, Thompson assisted Christian activists in a campaign against the rap group 2 Live Crew that led a state circuit-court judge an African-American to declare the album obscene. Later, a federal court in Florida handed down the first verdict in history that a sound recording was obscene, opening the door to prosecuting record-store owners for selling pornography. Thompson then launched a public campaign opposing the placement of homosexual-education tapes in the public schools by Switchboard of Miami, a social-services group that claims to help troubled teens. The tapes were included in the sex-education programs, but I argued that they violated a 1978 state statute which banned such materials, Thompson says.
Switchboard struck back. Under advice of its counsel, in 1990 it tried to disbar me and got a famously partisan Supreme Court of Florida to order me immediately to submit to a psychiatric examination on the grounds that I was mentally incompetent by virtue of a disabling obsession with pornography. The counsel advising Switchboard was States Attorney (and Switchboard board member) Reno.
Thompson submitted to the examination in good humor and was given a clean bill of health. Im proud to say that Im not only still practicing law, he says, I am the only officially certified sane lawyer in the entire state of Florida.
According to Thompson, Reno likes to play Shirley Temple, but shes a brutal practitioner of bare-knuckle politics, as these cases show. Anyone who underestimates her is making a serious mistake, he says.
Will Jeb Bush do that? Some of his strongest backers tell Insight they doubt he will confront the record of Renos behavior as states attorney and the trail of illegality clouding her tenure as U.S. attorney general. I call it the Bush gene problem, says Mike Thompson (no relation to Jack), a former chairman of the Florida Conservative Union and for 14 years the Republican state committeeman for Dade County. The Bushes have no problem standing up to conservatives, but they cant handle the demagoguery of the left. Janet and her dirt-diggers will go on the offensive against Jeb through surrogates and third parties.
He says he doubts the Bush campaign will go negative for instance, by raising Renos reported lesbian proclivities, and her alleged drunk driving and use of Miami call girls, which Thompson and former Miami police chief Harms and others say they believe make her susceptible to blackmail. Thompson has a Website (www.
nojanetreno.com) that documents these alleged scandals in direct language.
Bush campaign insiders say he wont tolerate that sort of attack, let alone be part of it. Jeb Bush has a tremendous record. He will remain positive and run on that record, says Thomas Spencer, a Miami lawyer and GOP activist. Its going to be difficult and rough. But if we keep our heads above the clouds, above the fray, well be okay. But, say Reno watchers, if Janet Reno unloads her sacks of mud onto Jeb Bushs head, maybe he will fight.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.
Fathers Open Letter Sheds Light on Renos Modus Operandi
In an Open letter to the American People, Bobby Fijnjes father, for 24 years a government official in the Netherlands Antilles, describes in chilling detail how his son was allegedly persecuted by Janet Reno on false charges of child sexual abuse:
On the evening of 28 August 1989, two months after his 14th birthday, Bobby was ordered to the Dade Juvenile Detention Center. He remained there until 4 May 1991, when he was released. During the frequent recesses which occurred throughout the preliminary hearings and trial, Bobby was held in solitary confinement in a holding cell at the courthouse. During Bobbys imprisonment, we twice asked for him to be released on bond, the second time in the care of his aunt and uncle (a retired Connecticut State Supreme Court judge), but this was refused because Bobby was a threat to the community and because it was said that our family would flee the country. Bobby pleaded not guilty and was tried as an adult on the motion of the Dade County prosecutors office, headed by Ms. Reno.
The pretrial hearings finally began in early August 1990 with Judge Norman Gerstein presiding. Pretrial hearings lasted until the middle of January 1991, at which time a jury was selected. Before and during the trial, we were repeatedly urged to accept a plea bargain and warned of the dangers Bobby faced in prison. We were told that he would have AIDS within a week after entering prison. We were told what a horrible time he would have in prison, where the jailers are mere administrators and the prison is actually ruled by the prisoners. But we knew Bobby was innocent, and we refused to accept a plea bargain.
During the trial, not a single witness ever testified that he or she had seen anything improper. Over 800 members of the church stepped forward and offered to testify on Bobbys behalf. At least 14 motions for mistrial were filed by Bobbys lawyers, Mr. Mel Black and Mr. Peter Miller. Over 500 sidebar conferences were held in this case, which cost the taxpayers well over $3 million money that could have been used to feed the poor, improve public health or shelter the many homeless people who roam the streets of Miami. Instead, this money was spent on the longest trial ever held in Dade County all in an effort to send an innocent boy to jail for life.
On the morning of 4 May 1991, the jury advised Judge Gerstein that a verdict had been reached, but we waited an hour-and-a-half for that verdict to be read. Judge Gerstein advised our lawyer that we must wait for Ms. Renos arrival. She wanted to be present when the verdict was read.
Bobby was acquitted on all counts.
As a life-long Floridian I can't wait. Some of my friends are switching to the Demo party so that they can vote for her in the primary election. This is going to be fun.
Well, maybe one award, but we deserve the others!....FRegards
Even morons tend not to vote for strange, gawky, shaky, lesbian, man thing serial killers in time of war, preferring someone who can actually lead the State through a crisis, instead of making things worse.