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WHITEWATER COUNSEL GETS REASON TO SMILE

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Standing on the sidewalk in shirt sleeves talking to reporters, Kenneth Starr glowed like a 500-watt bulb.

He tried to spout cliches about justice, but triumphant chuckles kept bubbling.You could almost see canary feathers poking out of his grin.

And why not?

For weeks Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, had been hammered - he wasn't objective, he was a Republican-leaning hit man on a witch hunt, he moonlighted lawyering for blue-chip corporations.

Some criticisms are still be valid. But with slam-dunk convictions of Gov. Jim Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal, Starr could afford a home-run strut.

The big win in a Little Rock courtroom gave Starr a fresh, bold hunting license.

His pursuit now can lead into the White House itself. Eventually Starr could gun for the biggest trophy of all - the president or, more likely, the president's wife. Make no mistake, Ken Starr is the 800-pound gorilla of the 1996 presidential election.