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GUILTY VERDICTS CLEARLY MAKE WHITEWATER A CAMPAIGN ISSUE

Bob Dole won't utter the word "Whitewater," and President Clinton certainly won't raise the issue.

But the guilty verdicts for Clinton's former business partners and his political successor mean the president won't be able to bury the issue as he runs for re-election.White House aides worked through Tuesday night compiling comments of jurors who said they believed the president's testimony at the trial of Jim and Susan McDougal, his partners in the Whitewater real estate deal, and Jim Guy Tucker, who succeeded him as Arkansas governor.

The three were convicted Tuesday of fraud despite Clinton's testimony, via videotape, that the allegations made by chief prosecution witness David Hale were false.

Hale has alleged illegal activities were committed by Clinton. Clinton was not on trial in the case decided Tuesday.

But before the verdicts, administration officials had hoped that not-guilty verdicts for those three would allow them to brand special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation a partisan witch hunt.

Starr, a Republican, is investigating whether Clinton friends and White House aides have been truthful or obstructive with those investigating White House operations as they relate to the Arkansas real estate deal.

But the guilty verdicts Tuesday fly in the face of the argument that Starr is off base. And the White House must face the fact that jurors in the president's home state convicted Clinton's ex-associates after he testified they had done no wrong.

Even Lloyd Cutler, Clinton's former White House counsel, said Wednesday the reality is that "the investigation will be with us right through the election. And that is unfortunate."

The issue of possible unethical or illegal behavior by Clinton, his wife or their aides helps cement the GOP charge that Clinton lacks character. Despite polls showing Clinton a strong favorite for re-election, voters still tell pollsters they question his truthfulness and integrity.

While Clinton and the Democrats certainly won't bring up the subject of Whitewater, it appeared likely that the campaign of GOP candidate Bob Dole will not directly raise the matter either for fear of being charged with politicizing the case.

But insiders on both sides said there is no doubt the issue would be squarely placed before the voting public by the news media and by GOP partisans not directly working for Dole.