Beverley Lumpkin: Halls of Justice

RENO LOOKS FOR A LEGACY

Just when many Justice employees thought it was time to start coasting toward the end of this administration and the beginning of the next, Janet Reno has started holding meetings of her top staff, demanding lists of “priorities” that still need to be accomplished between now and January 20.

One aide said people were groaning because her list of priorities was lengthy — the latest count was 35 items — which, he pointed out, means nothing is a priority when everything is. Also the items listed were general and unfocused — for example: “drugs,” “guns,” or “courts.”

One official remarked sardonically they could probably at least narrow the last down to “federal courts.”

Another top official, when asked about the priorities, immediately replied, “oh, the legacy horse****?” But he believes that what Reno actually has in mind is whittling down the broad categories to a few doable tasks.

He thinks, for example, if there’s a proposal or project that’s already about two-thirds done, then it makes sense for her to push to finish the job before she leaves. Even that will be difficult, though, because the average bureaucrat’s attitude this fall will be “haven’t you people gone yet?”

Another aide believes the main purpose of the exercise is to leave a blueprint for the incoming Attorney General to point out the most urgent areas requiring attention; “to give them the benefit of our insight.” However, that’s the sort of thing usually done by an incoming administration’s transition team; it’s hard to imagine that Reno’s successor will be as eager to accept her advice as she is to give it.

Reno herself at her weekly briefing explained, “What I’ve tried to do is to take the issues that we have been working on, to outline what still remains to be done, and to chart what we can do in these four and a half, five months left, so that I don’t waste the people’s time.”

CARNIVORE REVIEW EVOLVES

Every time we ask about the outside review of Carnivore’s source code, we get a new version of what’s going on.

Last week we learned for the first time it’s supposed to be a two-step process. First, an academic — one or more persons chosen by the FBI — examines the source code to verify and validate it is what the FBI says it is. Then a panel of interested business, computer and privacy experts reviews the academic’s findings.

Now we find out Reno has involved Steve Colgate, the top career guy in the department, and someone she usually turns to for handling the toughest problems. In fact, she values him so highly that she recently bestowed upon him the Exceptional Service Award, the much-coveted highest award in the department.

She revealed she’s asked Colgate to “work with the FBI to select an independent entity” for the review. That suggests the FBI on its own had not come up with a satisfactory “entity.” When reporters questioned whether this whole process was not taking a long time to get off the ground, Reno agreed. A few minutes later, when asked if she was confident the process was moving faster, she vowed, “I’m going to check when I leave here.”

SCHADENFREUDE IN THE WEN HO LEE CASE

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