President names new attorney-general

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WASHINGTON - President Bill Clinton has moved to put three weeks of acute political embarrassment behind him by naming the Miami state attorney Janet Reno as his new attorney-general, writes Rupert Cornwell. If confirmed, she would be the first woman in US history to head one of the 'Big Four' government departments of Justice, State, Treasury and Defence.

The White House is now fervently hoping for speedy Senate approval of Ms Reno after the fiasco of the withdrawal of his first choice, Zoe Baird, followed by the undignified jettisoning of Kimba Wood after it emerged that, like Ms Baird, she too had once employed an illegal immigrant as a domestic servant. Presenting what he devoutly hopes will be his final candidate for the Justice Department yesterday, the President said the 54-year-old Ms Reno, state attorney for Florida's Dade County since 1978, was 'a remarkable public servant, of unquestioned integrity'. Ms Reno is also warmly regarded by Hillary Clinton, who has led efforts to appoint a woman as the country's chief law enforcement officer.

For the most part, Ms Reno's background is a perfect fit for the new Democratic administration. She has been a zealous pursuer of corruption. Unlike the President, she is an opponent of capital punishment, but she has a strong record in the civil and children's rights fields, as well as the first-hand criminal case experience on which Joe Biden, the influential chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, insists. Still more to the immediate point, she is unmarried and without children, unlikely therefore to fall victim of another 'nannygate'.

Even so White House and FBI background checks have been unprecedentedly rigorous; another mis-step in the search for a head of the troubled Justice Department would be a calamity, raising huge doubts about Mr Clinton's political judgement, the role of Mrs Clinton in the decision-making process, and his determination to put a woman in the job.