Will Merrick Garland follow the Janet Reno model?
Reno landed in hot water with the White House early on for rejecting a reinventing government proposal that Gore’s staff was pushing to merge the FBI and DEA. She listened carefully to both sides and rejected the idea.
“That was one of the key tensions. They wanted to do big things,” Stern recalled.
Reno’s independence proved to be both irritating and beneficial to the Clinton White House. While the slew of independent counsels she sought brought political heartburn, her distance from Clinton made it easier for her to weather GOP criticism when she repeatedly declined to appoint one to probe fundraising violations by Democrats during the 1996 presidential race.
That fight would’ve been particularly hard for Garland to miss, both before and after he moved out of his role as Gorelick’s deputy.
Indeed, on the very day the Senate confirmed him to the D.C. Circuit in March 1997, the first order of business was a resolution demanding that Reno seek an independent counsel to investigate reports of illegal fundraising from foreign sources.
The Senate debate came about a month after it was revealed that President Bill Clinton had invited big Democratic donors to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom and that Clinton specifically approved such invites for people who gave $100,000 or more.
The first federal prosecutor Reno tasked with investigating election-related issues said Garland’s role in managing those politically explosive tasks under Reno leaves him well positioned to tackle similar issues now facing the Justice Department.
“It would be impossible that he didn’t learn from what he observed,” said Chuck LaBella, the former U.S. Attorney in San Diego. “I think Reno was good at being attorney general, don’t get me wrong, but I think he’s much better situated.”
LaBella, whom Reno tapped to head up the high-profile campaign finance task force, said Garland comes into the job with much more knowledge of how things work in D.C.
“Garland has a support mechanism in Washington and in the country, because of the experience, that Reno did not have,” said LaBella.