Candidate Janet Reno: Dancing Fool? (Political Notebook)

Article excerpt

A recent gala fund-raiser in South Beach might have dispelled the question, "Can she dance?" but Florida gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno still must face the music over concerns about whether she is fit to run the Sunshine State. Those with long memories will recall that, during the middle of the Clinton impeachment debacle, Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell wondered whether Reno, a fellow Democrat, was the most corrupt attorney general in U.S. history or merely the most incompetent.

My own experience with the boogie-down madam suggests that either description will do.

I worked as a senior adviser in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the spring of 1997, a time when Reno appointed a senior DOJ troubleshooter, Robert K. Bratt, to "clean up" the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In making the announcement, Reno lauded Bratt's "experience and talent."

Three years later, a scathing report by the department's Inspector General (IG) charged Bratt with "egregious misconduct" and "willful disregard for national security" in the months running up to Reno's endorsement. It seems that Bratt, a Reno favorite who earlier had been tapped to head the DOJ's overseas training programs, had secured two illegal visas for Russian women after meeting them through a "matchmaking service" overseas. In examining his travel records in the months before Reno presented the new INS troubleshooter to Congress, the IG found little professional justification for his repeated trips to the former Soviet republic, saying they were in fact driven by his social agenda.

After first denying all to federal investigators, Bratt admitted that he had an intimate relationship with one of the women, who previously had been denied a visa by the U.S. consulate in Moscow. The IG investigation paralleled the largest-ever probe by the State Department's Office of Diplomatic Security into the trafficking of Russian women. "An examination of Bratt's conduct in Russia shows how he made himself vulnerable to blackmail or extortion," noted the IG report, released in September 2000. According to the IG report, Reno's pick to reform the INS also paved the way for a waitress at a local bar, Lulu's on M Street in Washington, to get a well-paid professional job at the DOJ.

The criminal-division manager with overall responsibility for the training programs headed by Bratt was Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark M Richard. The powerful Richard was the DOJ's liaison with the intelligence community, a post that frequently put him in daily contact with Reno. He also was one of two people--the other was Lee Radek, head of the department's public-integrity section--who met with Reno as often as twice a week, but never seemed to find sufficient cause to name a special prosecutor to investigate various allegations of wrongdoing by Bill and Hillary Clinton and then-vice president Al Gore. …

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