Danforth's political career marked by steadfastness, integrity
September 8, 1999
Web posted at: 6:24 p.m. EDT (2224 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- To many people, former Sen. John Danforth (R-Missouri) is best known as the senator who once employed Clarence Thomas. But those who know Danforth best sometimes jokingly call him "St. Jack" -- a man of high integrity who put principle above partisan politics during his years of elective service.
Attorney General Janet Reno will hold a news conference Thursday morning to announce that Danforth is her choice to head an investigation of the FBI's 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, CNN has learned.
In the Senate, Danforth had a reputation as a conservative-to-moderate Republican with a strong sense of personal ethics, a dislike for stridently partisan politics and a knack for finding common ground. Those qualities brought him respect from both Republicans and Democrats during his 18 years in the Senate, and may be key in the Waco investigation.
Danforth, 63, who served two terms as Missouri's attorney general, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976. He received and undergraduate degree in divinity and a law degree from Yale, and was a lawyer in New York and St. Louis before entering politics. He also is an Episcopal priest.
Danforth's election to the Senate marked the ascension of Republicans in Missouri politics. Once a strongly Democratic state, Missouri now is served by two Republican senators considered Danforth proteges -- John Ashcroft and Christopher "Kit" Bond.
He was among the most wealthy senators of his time, thanks to his family fortune in the Ralston Purina conglomerate. But it was Thomas' Supreme Court nomination hearings that introduced Danforth to many Americans.
Thomas gained recognition in Republican party politics with Danforth's help. He served as assistant attorney general to Danforth in Missouri, worked briefly as a lawyer for Monsanto Chemical Corp. on Danforth's recommendation, and joined Danforth in Washington as a staffer after the senator's election.
When then-president Bush nominated Thomas, Danforth was a staunch Senate supporter, even after Anita Hill's claims of sexual harassment against Thomas.
Danforth again made news in 1997 and 1998, calling several times in speeches and public appearances for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton but warning against partisan politics in the impeachment process.
"It would be a very bad thing for our country if we came out of all of this and said, in effect, 'Well, it's okay to commit perjury before a grand jury, it's not all that bad,' or 'It's okay to obstruct justice,' " he said in a January 1998 interview on PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." But he also said the partisan atmosphere that had entered the impeachment proceedings had damaged the process.