Monday, November 7, 2016

I Know A Guy

Caring - about people, about things, about life - is an act of maturity. Tracy McMillan.

Noting the passing of Janet Reno, former United States Attorney General.

Everyone has "that friend," the one they meet in entirely ordinary circumstances who goes on to have an extraordinary life. There's that kid who always hung around high school sports teams who becomes a Navy pilot. The shy girl who ends up in Congress. The skinny, blend-into-the-crowd teen who finds his way to Coronado Island, acing SEAL training.

I know a guy. We worked together in the early years of my LE career. He was funny, unassuming and a pleasure to be around. One night, assigned together, we made four arrests in four separate situations and put six miles on the patrol car. That's a car partner to treasure.

Our kids were roughly the same age, so we swapped children's clothes. Dinners, back porch beers... Great times. Then, he got a job with the Feds. I lost track of him after that, meeting periodically through a mutual friend. That guy, also a co-worker, kept me up on the latest.

We finally got a chance to chat at length one afternoon. He was retired, and had come to visit. He'd finally found a home at the FBI, doing a number of jobs that took him all over the world. Among his assignments was to look after the security needs of the AG. I asked him who he'd met, and what they were like. He went down the list (he'd become actual friends with one of them) and came to Janet Reno.

Reno was a tall, bright woman who graduated Cornell, went to Harvard Law and prosecuted cases in Miami/Dade. AG Reno had a tumultuous Washington career. She was named Attorney General during the Clinton Administration. The Branch Dravidian disaster occurred at the beginning of her tenure. The decision to intervene in that cult's pedophilia-as-proselytizing operation led to a botched ATF raid in which four agents were killed in a two hour gun battle. Ultimately, eighty people died when the FBI stormed the compound after a months-long siege.

There were also many triumphs. Ms. Reno presided over successful prosecutions of the Unibomber, the "Blind Sheik" who masterminded the first World Trade Center attack, obtained arrest warrants for the Atlanta Olympic bomber (apprehended in 2003) and prosecuted the shooter responsible for the CIA killings in Maryland.

Then there was Elian Gonzales. He grew up in Cuba, and was taken by his mother on a trip to America. Mom drowned, Elian was initially placed in the US with relatives and that's where the story becomes complicated. International treaties don't allow one parent to take a child permanently to another country over the objections of the other parent. Elian's dad wanted his son back. There was angst, there were court battles and, in the end, dad won. The relatives made some molon labe noises - you know, come and take? The Clinton Administration sent Federal SWAT members, who came and took. It didn't go especially well, a famous photo showing a crying Elian being pried from the arms of an uncle by a federal agent with a submachine gun.

So I asked my friend about MS. Reno. "I liked her." It seems that, during the discussions within the AG's office about little Elian, she had asked my friend "What do you think?" He hemmed and hawed... He was an FBI agent, not a policy maker. "You're a father," Reno replied. "What do you think?"

"She listened. That's not all that common in Washington."

Ms. Reno completed her government service and returned to private life. She was a board member of the "Innocence Project," using DNA results to spring the actually innocent. She did a number of other things that served the interests of justice. 

She passed as a result of Parkinson's disease. Love her or hate her, she was an uncommon person. Thank you for your service, ma'am. You will be missed. 

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