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Clinton adds a little to Whitewater stew

President Clinton on Tuesday disclosed more White House contacts with federal regulators about the Whitewater investigation but insisted anew, "I haven't done anything wrong."

Clinton faced a host of Whitewater questions as he appeared at a news conference to announce the appointment of Washington lawyer Lloyd Cutler as senior counsel, replacing Bernard Nussbaum.

Nussbaum resigned Saturday after it was disclosed that he and five White House aides had been briefed three times last fall by Treasury Department officials concerning the Resolution Trust Corp.'s investigation of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, the failed Arkansas thrift that failed in 1989 at a cost to taxpayers of up to $60-million.

The RTC is the government agency charged with disposing of failed S&Ls. Madison Guaranty was headed by James McDougal, the Clintons' former partner in Whitewater. Among other things, Robert Fiske, a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, is investigating whether McDougal or the Clintons benefited from Madison's failure.

On Tuesday, Clinton characterized the numerous additional contacts as "incidental." An administration official said the contacts involved press inquiries and were made over the phone or in informal, hallway meetings. The official said they would be documented in material sent to Fiske.

So far, little is known publicly about the details of the Clintons' financial dealings in Arkansas. Many Democrats say they haven't rushed to Clinton's defense because they fear taking a stand when so much is undisclosed; Republicans' repeated requests for a congressional inquiry have been rejected by the majority Democrats and by Fiske, who says testimony before Congress might bungle his investigation.

But Tuesday Republicans presented a list of 40 witnesses they plan to call before a March 24 hearing of the House Banking Committee, which has been addressing the RTC's thrift cleanup. Cutler said White House officials would testify.

One of them will be Bruce Lindsey, Clinton's senior adviser. On Tuesday, Clinton disclosed that Lindsey probably was the person who told him that the RTC planned to refer its investigation of Madison Guaranty _ and the Clintons _ to the Justice Department.

But Clinton also denied that he tried to meddle in the RTC's decision to do so.

The issue of what the president knew and when he knew it is important because it is improper for federal regulators to tip off possible targets of a potential criminal investigation.

Also, critics contend that if Clinton was tipped off to the regulators' intentions, he could be in a position to use the power of his office to sidetrack a criminal probe.