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Testimony ends in Whitewater trial

Testimony in the Whitewater trial of two Arkansas bankers ended Tuesday with defense lawyers alleging the case was little more than an election year effort to hurt President Clinton.

Defense lawyers rested their case on the trial's 21st day and took a fresh swipe at the team of Whitewater investigators who brought the defendants to court as part of a long investigation into Clinton's personal and political finances.

"Any objective person would look at this case and conclude it was a political prosecution aimed at President Clinton," attorney Dan Guthrie told reporters after the defense team rested its case.

The defendants, Herby Branscum and Robert Hill, are accused of illegally converting their bank's funds into contributions for Clinton's 1990 gubernatorial campaign, and of conspiring to hide from federal regulators two cash withdrawals made by the campaign _ for $30,000 in May that year and $22,500 in November.

Lead prosecutor Hickman Ewing said throughout the trial that Branscum and Hill deliberately broke the law to curry favor with Clinton. Both men were appointed to influential state commissions after Clinton won the 1990 election.

Defense and prosecution lawyers will meet with Judge Susan Wright today to discuss jury instructions, and the jury will begin deliberations after hearing closing arguments on Thursday morning.

Clinton was not charged with any crime either in this case or in the trial that ended with convictions against two former business partners in May, but the Whitewater probe has hurt him politically and a new round of guilty verdicts could put a dent in his lead over Republican challenger Bob Dole.

In videotaped testimony that was played in court last week, Clinton flatly denied allegations that he gave the two defendants key public posts as repayment for their contributions to his 1990 campaign.

He said he appointed Branscum to the state highway commission and reappointed Hill to the state banking commission because they were the strongest candidates.

In court Tuesday, Hill again denied allegations that he defrauded his and Branscum's Perry County Bank in Perryville, Ark., by filing false expense reports to reimburse himself for political contributions to Clinton and others.