One of President Clinton's private lawyers said Monday that Kenneth W. Starr, the newly appointed independent counsel, should voluntary step down from the Whitewater investigation because of his partisan activities and positions.

"Any decision he makes is already compromised," said Robert S. Bennett, who represents Clinton in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former Arkansas state worker.Bennett said the public wouldn't have confidence in any negative finding by Starr "because of the baggage he picked up" since Attorney General Janet Reno considered him for the Whitewater counsel's role. She gave the job instead to Robert W. Fiske Jr. - like Starr a Republican - who was replaced Friday by a special federal court panel.

Starr had considered filing a friend-of-the court brief supporting the position of Paula Corbin Jones, who contends that a sitting president does not have immunity from a lawsuit. Bennett argues Clinton has such legal protection.

Bennett said in an interview he has known Starr for years, and has "a high regard for his intellect and integrity."

But Starr's background is political. He was a top Justice Department official in the Reagan administration and solicitor general under President Bush.

"He should exercise the good judgment of stepping down," Bennett said. "Any decisions he makes are going to be questioned on whether they're merit-based. The big danger is on a close call."

The White House also is miffed that a new prosecutor will take over the Whitewater investigation, possibly starting from scratch. "Enough is enough," declared Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

The concern expressed publicly by President Clinton's aides is that newly appointed independent counsel Kenneth Starr will replow the ground covered by special counsel Robert Fiske. They say that would be a waste of time and money.

"I would hope the three-judge panel took all this in consideration with their appointment," Panetta said Sunday. "I would hope that he would proceed on the basis of fairness and objectivity and he won't let these factors influence his investigation."

Appearing on ABC, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine expressed what White House officials are only saying privately. "There is a heavy burden now on Mr. Starr to be fair and impartial as he says he will be," Mitchell said.

In a related development, Panetta also voiced the strongest show of support yet for Treasury Department officials who are under fire for giving Congress misleading or contradictory statements about their contacts with the White House over White-water.

"We're going to stick with them," he told NBC, without ruling out their resignations.

A three-judge federal court panel removed Fiske as special counsel Friday, saying the appointment by Attorney General Janet Reno raised questions about his independence. Fiske had already determined there was no foul play in the suicide of Clinton aide Vincent Foster and reported no criminal wrongdoing in the way White House and Treasury officials sought to control public relations damage from Whitewater.