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At Justice, Janet Reno Will Need `A Pitchfork, Not A Broom'


Washington Outlook

AT JUSTICE, JANET RENO WILL NEED `A PITCHFORK, NOT A BROOM'

In Miami, longtime State Attorney Janet Reno had to deal with violent drug smugglers, brutal cops, and explosive racial tensions. The problems awaiting her at the Justice Dept. may be more civilized but no less difficult.

If the Senate, as expected, confirms her as Attorney General, she will take over a department demoralized by scandals and charges of political tampering. "The house-cleaning will have to take place with a pitchfork, not a broom," says Lani Guinier, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who served in Justice's civil-rights division under President Jimmy Carter.

Reno has to move quickly to dispatch the leftover problems. "If you let them fester too long, they become yours," says Massachusetts Superior Court Judge G. Richard Stearns, a close Clinton friend. Top Justice officials have gone to war against FBI Director William S. Sessions. Politically sensitive prosecutions and investigations are time bombs. And the intense interest of the White House--especially Hillary Rodham Clinton--in Justice's business could make Reno's life difficult.

BARR'S BOMBSHELL. The FBI matter is first on the list. The day he left office in January, Attorney General William P. Barr issued a bombshell report charging Sessions with misconduct. The allegations include failure to pay taxes on personal use of a government limo and the misuse of travel funds.

Sessions' supporters say Barr was out to get the former judge because he was too independent. They also say Sessions made foes within the bureau with his efforts to root out bias against black and Hispanic agents. But the charges are serious. And Reno, who is responsible for the FBI, wil play a large part as the White House decides whether to seek Sessions' resignation. Meanwhile, morale at the FBI is disintegrating.

The new Attorney General will also find herself in the middle of the partisan Iraqgate inbroglio. Congressional Democrats want an independent counsel to review the prosecution of an Atlanta branch employee of Italian bank Banca Nazionale de Lavoro who made illegal loans to Iraq. They charge that Bush aides interfered to keep Washington's pre-war assistance of Saddam Hussein secret.

Reno will inherit a staff that may not bend easily to a new direction. During 12 years of GOP rule, the senior career ranks have been filled with conservative civil servants. For example, the Office fo the Solicitor General, which represents the government before the Supreme Court, is staffed mainly by young Republicans. Reno can eventually replace the senior staff. But meanwhile, she may face a lot of bureaucratic foot-dragging.

LITTLE ROCK CROWD. After serving 15 years as Dade County State Attorney, dealing with law-enforcement and prosecutorial problems is right down Reno's alley. Dodging friendly fire may prove harder. The dual-lawyer White House will likely keep close tabs on the Attorney General, who, unlike many other top appointees, is a stranger to both Clintons. Reno could have two of Hillary Clinton's closest law partners from the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock looking over her shoulder: Webster L. Hubbell is slated for a top Justice Dept. position--perhaps the No. 3 post--and Vincent Foster Jr. is Deputy White House counsel. Says one Democrat close to the Clinton transition team: "Hubbell may rub people the wrong way if he acts as the eyes and ears of the White House."

Like all Attorneys General, Reno will have to balance her roles as the nations' top law-enforcer and champion of the Administrations's political goals. But before she can even think about her own agenda, she has to clear away the mess the Republicans left hehind.Catherine Yang


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