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STARR IS SEEKING DEPUTY WITHOUT STRONG GOP TIES

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Kenneth Starr, the recently appointed Whitewater independent counsel, is seeking a high-profile deputy with no ties to Republican politics - someone whose credentials will blunt criticisms.

While widely respected as a lawyer, Starr has no experience actually prosecuting cases.And he has been sharply criticized by Democrats for his ties to the GOP. A Republican-appointed appellate judge who later represented the Bush administration before the Supreme Court as solicitor general, Starr had discussed seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate from Virginia and was listed as co-chairman for a GOP House candidate's campaign.

So he has been quietly soliciting names of seasoned prosecutors who rose through the career ranks or are Democratic appointees now in private practice, said several lawyers familiar with Starr's thinking, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

"I'm not necessarily certain this person will be perceived so much as a Democrat as just a non-Republican, someone who has had a great deal of experience in prosecuting cases, high-profile and tough cases," one lawyer said.

Starr probably hasn't begun interviewing possible candidates yet, the lawyers said.

But among the candidates who have been suggested or would fit the bill, they said, were Peter Vaira and Tom Puccio, prosecutors of Abscam, where several politicians were convicted of accepting bribes from a phony Arab sheik in the late 1970s.

Also suggested was Jeremiah O'Sullivan, chief during the 1980s of the Justice Department's organized crime strike force in New England.

O'Sullivan said he had not been contacted by Starr and probably would not be available given his busy private practice. Vaira declined comment. Puccio did not return telephone calls to his office.

Any of the three would give an instant boost to Starr's effort, the lawyers said, although all are older than Starr and have established private practices that may make it difficult for them to take a deputy's job.

Prosecutors with less star status who might also fit the bill include William Robertson, a former U.S. attorney in New Jersey, and Dick Gregorie, a federal prosecutor in the Miami area who worked on the drug case against former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, they said.