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FUTURE HOLDS LITTLE SOLACE FOR BELEAGUERED PRESIDENT

After hearing the jury's verdict, President Clinton's somber expression said it all. His dramatic testimony could not save his former business partners from guilty verdicts or erase Whitewater from the presidential campaign.

The future holds little solace for the president. He faces the prospect of testifying under oath again next month in the trial of two Arkansas bankers accused of illegally assisting his 1990 gubernatorial campaign.A new grand jury in Little Rock, Ark., recently began examining other criminal matters under the guidance of Whitewater prosecutors.

And after months of stinging attacks from the Clinton White House and its Democratic surrogates, Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has increased credibility as he steps up the Washington phase of his probe, which is focused in part on Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Prosecutors are investigating the truthfulness of White House aides' statements about Hillary Clinton's role in the purge of White House travel office employees as well as the disappearance and mysterious reappearance of her law firm's billing records.

A visibly happy Starr said Tuesday that phase of the probe "is very active."

The guilty verdict is "a very, very bad development" for the Clinton White House "because it gives credence to the general atmospherics around Whitewater - that there was dirty business afoot," said Joseph diGenova, a U.S. attorney during the Reagan administration and a former independent counsel.

The legal and political impact of Tuesday's verdict was immediate. One of those convicted, Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, announced his resignation within hours.

Clinton, who for years has dismissed the failed Whitewater real estate venture as nothing more than "old news," was clearly somber. He said he felt sorry "on a personal level" for his convicted friends, James and Susan McDou-gal.

And Republicans were jubilant at the prospect of keeping the Whitewater issue alive through Election Day. The GOP is now armed with 24 guilty counts from a jury in the president's home state, and the Senate Whitewater Committee is scheduled to issue its report next month.

"At 5 p.m. today, the cover-up began to unravel," said Tony Blankley, spokesman for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, referring to the time when word of the verdict was announced Tuesday.

The president's defenders have no intention of letting up. Within hours of the verdict, Democratic surrogates were peppering news shows with assurances that Clinton would remain unscathed in the probe.

But all acknowledged that Whitewater would remain in the picture during his re-election campaign. Ironically, it took Clinton just days to dismiss the issue during his last campaign. It has dogged his presidency ever since.

Sen. Bob Dole, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, declined to get into the fray over whether the jury's verdict - especially after Clinton's videotaped testimony on behalf of the defense - damaged the president's credibility.

One juror said afterwards that she found Clinton to be a "very credible witness" but that his testimony "didn't really relate to the transactions" at the heart of the prosecutor's case.

Clinton was not charged in the case, and he was not substantially involved in the financial transactions. The next trial involves a matter closer to Clinton's heart - the political financing of his 1990 campaign.

The defendants in that trial are Arkansas bankers Herby Brans-cum Jr. and Robert Hill, whose fund-raising efforts in Clinton's 1990 re-election effort were followed swiftly by Branscum's appointment to the state highway commission.

Evidence gathered by prosecutors shows Hill hand-delivered campaign contributions to Clinton right after the election and the two discussed the state appointment.

Another key player may be one of Clinton's most trusted White House aides, Bruce Lindsey, who was the 1990 campaign's treasurer.

Branscum's lawyer, Dan Guthrie, reiterated Tuesday that he intends to call Clinton to testify, saying "there are only certain witnesses who have certain facts" and who can deny that Branscum's state appointment was a payoff.

Guthrie made a prediction that is likely to make the White House shudder: Starr's office "will vicariously try either the 1990 Clinton re-election campaign or Bill Clinton himself," the lawyer said.

Starr has assigned his top deputy in Little Rock, Hickman Ewing, to prosecute the case.