Janet Reno trades quips with Jay Leno

Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2002, Jacksonville.com
Associated Press Writer

Janet Reno trades quips with Jay Leno on `The Tonight Show'

BURBANK, Calif. - Janet Reno took her Florida gubernatorial race to "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday, joking with Jay Leno about her looks and speaking seriously about the role she played in sending Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba.

She also had high praise for her former boss, calling President Clinton's time in the White House "a great eight years."

She had this to say about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: "We all thought she'd be a great president, too."

As attorney general during the Clinton administration, Reno outraged many in Miami's politically powerful Cuban-American community with her decision to return Elian, then 6, after his rescue at sea when he tried to flee the island with his mother and others who drowned.

"Legally, and from a public policy point of view, I thought the little boy should be with his daddy," Reno said. "That was the basis of my decision."

Elian was taken at gunpoint from relatives in Miami, who had refused to give him up, and returned to his father in April 2000.

The former attorney general said the harsh public reaction never bothered her.

"They said the meanest things that anybody could say, and I felt almost triumphant, because that's the reason these people had come to this country, to have free speech," she told Leno.

Appearing in a sober black suit and pink blouse, Reno indicated she has no problem with Leno and other comedians making fun of her appearance, adding she even collects political cartoons of herself.

"I got so I could recognize Janet Reno elbows, Janet Reno lower lips, Janet Reno stoops," she said, encouraging the audience to send her any they see.

Reno is in California to raise money for her Florida gubernatorial campaign in which she hopes to unseat incumbent Republican Jeb Bush. First, however, she has to win the state's Democratic primary in September.

Leno noted that other former Clinton associates, including Vice President Al Gore, tried to distance themselves from the president after the sex scandal involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"I'm not," Reno said flatly. "He made a mistake, but what he did in terms of the economy, in terms of bringing crime down eight years in a row to a 26-year low, in terms of giving America a sense of hope and purpose, I think it was a great eight years."