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Janet Reno, First Female U.S. Attorney General, Dies at 78

Former Attorney General Janet Reno died on Monday from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. She was 78.

Reno was the first woman to head the nation’s top law enforcement agency. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 after his two top choices, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, were forced to withdraw their names from consideration after news broke that they employed undocumented workers.

Reno’s tenure at the Justice Department was controversial. She approved the FBI assault on the Branch Davidians compound in Waco, Texas, which led to 76 deaths. She also authorized agents to take back six-year-old Elián González to his father, resulting in his return to Cuba. González was found in an inner tube off the coast of Florida after his mother and other Cuban refugees drowned trying to escape the island nation.

Among her successes, Reno successfully oversaw the captures and convictions of Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. She also prosecuted Aldrich Ames, a CIA agent who sold government secrets to Russia.

She served as attorney general for the entirety of Clinton’s presidency. After stepping down, Reno unsuccessfully ran for governor of Florida, losing to Jeb Bush.

Reno was also the subject of a popular “Saturday Night Live” parody, “Janet Reno’s Dance Party,” that featured Will Ferrell as a rug-cutting attorney general.

“Janet Reno was an American original, a public servant whose intellect, integrity, and fierce commitment to justice helped shape our nation’s legal landscape,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Her legacy lives on in a generation of lawyers she inspired, the ordinary lives she touched, and a nation that is more just. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to her family and all who loved and admired her.”

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