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Reno Hard to Shake in Hours of Grilling

August 1, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ She spun a human tale in an unflappable bureaucratic monotone.

Attorney General Janet Reno took Congress back Tuesday to her soul-searching on the 1993 Waco assault, to the decision-maker behind the tanks and agents _ lying awake, she said, thinking what effect tear gas might have if used on her own family.

How she struggled to understand the intentions of David Koresh. How she worried about the children in the Branch Davidian compound. And how, she said, no one will ever know if there was a better way.

``I am accountable,″ she kept saying, sitting alone at the witness table.

It was all delivered in calm, even tones, hours of blunt point and counterpoint, ending 10 days of often emotionally wrenching hearings that had brought some federal agents to tears.

``A preventable and arguably predictable nightmare,″ Rep. Bill Zeliff, R-N.H., co-chairman of the hearings, said of the conflagration in which more than 80 people died.

But Democrats were friendly, even fawning, praising Reno as a role model for women, testifying to her ``towering integrity,″ admiring her steadiness under pressure.

``For anybody’s who’s wondering what’s gonna happen to Janet today, you can sit back and get a cup of coffee,″ Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., said before she had uttered a word. ``Nothing’s gonna happen to Janet today.″

But Reno suggested she was feeling plenty of turmoil leading up to her decision to approve the use of tear gas in the compound on April 19, 1993.

She said she thought of her mother, who had died a few months earlier after struggling with lung cancer and emphysema, and her grandniece, 11 months old, and how the gas would affect people like them.

``I saw two real, live people,″ she said, as she weighed whether to use the gas. ``I kept going through it and saying, `I can’t do this.‴

She went on to do it.

``In any other country, she’d have resigned,″ said Rep. Robert Dornan, R-Calif., watching the proceedings. ``What saved her was taking the blame, allowing Clinton to hide behind her.″

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