Janet Reno fears that her credibility has been damaged. Imagine that! Just because the federal government used “pyrotechnic devices” against the Branch Davidian compound?

That might do it, given the Reno Justice Department’s insistence over so many years that no such devices were used: Except, well, it now seems that maybe that wasn’t quite 100-percent accurate. Yes, the government did use pyrotechnics, the Dallas Morning News revealed in late August, and great has been Reno’s discombobulation since then.

Investigations, internal and congressional, were pending just before Labor Day. Re-investigations, you might call them. We’ve been down this trail before. Subsequent to the Branch Davidian calamity, in which more than 80 Koreshians died (not to mention four government agents), Reno commissioned an internal investigation.

It was not what everybody and his dog would call a penetrating inquiry. Former Watergate prosecutor Henry Ruth, Jr., who helped with the Treasury Department’s review of the disaster, said of the report that Justice eventually produced: “People at the time thought the Justice Department evaluation was a whitewash in the sense that it didn’t tell the full facts about what was known. It clearly was written to vindicate the attorney general . . . ” Ruth says the investigators “didn’t use the proper types of investigatory techniques necessary to explore the facts.” Hence various facts did not get explored.

And that was just the start—a grisly, but in retrospect hardly surprising, preview of the Clinton administration’s favorite indoor sport, fact management.

Reno is distressed to see her credibility in tatters? Who knew the dear lady had any credibility left after seven years of helping Bill Clinton keep the lid on his private embarrassments, like the case of the FBI files that wound up in the White House?

The truth is, of course, that no one in the administration, at this point, is longer in the credibility department than is she. Maybe that thought will cheer her up.

The tone of an administration comes from the top—the White House. No administration, it should go without saying, will be more honest than the chief executive directs it to be.

Even before Monica, Clinton made it abundantly plain that the only facts he wanted laid out in the sunshine for impartial inspection were those that embarrassed Republicans, spiffed up his own image, or, preferably, both. A federal judge in Arkansas—an ex-student of the President’s—recently fined her former professor $90,000 for lying under oath. That modest figure was not enough, probably, but it made official what every one has known for a long time: Bill Clinton is a liar.

What torments his disregard for truth may have caused Janet Reno, no one will ever know. What is clear is that, with this administration, nothing is ever clear. Everything is murky. The sun never penetrates to dark corners of deed and motive; the moral cobwebs block it out.

With the attorney general’s “credibility” at stake, and her critics pressing hard, we may find out in due course what really went on at the Davidian compound: what the pyrotechnics were for, why the Army’s Delta Force was on hand, what the hell the federal government thought it was doing anyway, employing military style measures against nutty but not noticeably violent people.

It seems obvious that, considering how the siege worked out, those who laid it, approved it, executed it would give anything to be able to take back everything. What were they thinking, though, in the first place? That all they had to do was demonstrate the power of the U.S. government? Count on the Koreshians’ patriotic instincts? What?

The whole misconceived, misbegotten enterprise speaks strong words about the arrogance of unchecked power. This same arrogance blocks the channels of conscience, feeds the arrogant assumption that as for the voters, those boobs, we’ll tell ’em what they need to know, when and if they need to know it.

Did Janet Reno sense what she was getting in for when she signed on for the job that Kimba Wood and Zoe Baird had failed to land, due to extracurricular embarrassments? Whatever virtue Reno had in 1993, she lost fest. After all, thats the big boss’s specialty’—moral deflowering.