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Clinton Praises Reno’s Waco Testimony : Government: He also announces 7 nominees in first Justice Department visit, including Al Gore’s brother-in-law and a lawyer who has sued him.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Making his first trip to the Justice Department Thursday to announce seven nominations for department posts, President Clinton praised Atty. Gen. Janet Reno for shouldering responsibility in the Branch Davidian tragedy near Waco, Tex.

Clinton told cheering employees in the department’s courtyard that he felt the title of “general” is appropriate for Reno--although she has said that she does not like it--because “she certainly seemed in command to me yesterday up on (Capitol) Hill,” where Reno defended her actions in the Branch Davidian drama under occasionally hostile questioning.

The President saw a sign in the audience held by a Justice Department employee and, beaming in agreement, gestured for it to be held higher. It proclaimed: “That-a-girl, Janet,” echoing a phrase that Reno used in her testimony Wednesday.

Both Reno’s sister and Clinton had used that expression, she said, when they telephoned her late the day of the Waco fire to comment on her television appearances defending her decision.

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In a footnote to Reno’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who denounced FBI tactics to end the standoff and told Reno that she “did the right thing in offering to resign,” issued a press release clarifying his statement.

Conyers’ contended that he was not urging her to resign but saluting her for taking responsibility.

“The fact that we have an attorney general willing to take that heat for her decision is a breath of fresh air after a decade of attorneys general who sought to avoid accountability,” he said.

The Justice Department received “hundreds” of calls praising Reno’s testimony, a spokeswoman said.

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The nominees to the Justice posts include a civil rights lawyer and professor who once sued Clinton as governor of Arkansas, a top White House lawyer and constitutional expert, an experienced antitrust lawyer who is the wife of a Democratic senator and a Mississippi trial lawyer who is Vice President Al Gore’s brother-in-law.

The nominees:

* Walter Dellinger, associate White House counsel and a former Duke University law professor, nominated to be assistant attorney general in charge of the office of legal counsel. The office, sometimes called “the attorney general’s lawyer,” advises the President on constitutional legal questions.

* Lani Guinier, a University of Pennsylvania law professor and former lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was named to head the department’s civil rights division. She is a former special assistant to the civil rights division chief. In 1984 she filed suit against then-Gov. Clinton over Arkansas voter registration requirements, a case that was settled when the state agreed to stop allegedly discriminatory practices.

* Anne K. Bingaman, an antitrust lawyer for 17 years and wife of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), was chosen to head the antitrust division. She called it “a shame” that the antitrust division is only half the size it was when President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981.

* Eleanor Dean Acheson, a Boston trial attorney who is the granddaughter of former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, was nominated to be assistant attorney general in charge of the office of policy development, the department’s think tank.

* Frank W. Hunger, a veteran trial attorney and specialist in toxic damages and products liability cases, was named to head the civil division. Hunger, president-elect of the Bar Assn. for the Fifth Federal Circuit, was married to Gore’s sister, who died of cancer in 1984.

* Sheila Foster Anthony, a former senior associate in a Washington law firm, was named to head the office of legislative affairs--the department’s representative on Capitol Hill. A native of Hope, Ark., she served on key committees of that state’s Democratic Party and is married to a former congressman.

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* Gerald Torres was nominated to head the Environment and Natural Resources Division. A University of Minnesota law professor who is on leave from the University of Texas, he was graduated from Yale Law School and worked with the Children’s Defense Fund, an organization of which First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was once a leader.


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