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Whitewater panel gets 6-month extension

A federal judge has extended the term of a Whitewater grand jury after special prosecutor Kenneth Starr told her that six more months of the jury's work would be "strongly in the public interest."

Starr asked U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright to let the special grand jury stay on the job until May 7, 1998 _ two years after its first meeting. The grand jury's term was set to expire Nov. 7.

Wright approved the request late Friday, agreeing with Starr's argument that more time was needed to complete several ongoing investigations.

Since his appointment in August 1994, Starr has spent more than $30-million investigating President Clinton and the first lady and their ex-business partners James and Susan McDougal, the owners of a failed Arkansas savings and loan.

Special grand juries can meet for a maximum of two years. If Starr has not completed his work by next spring in Arkansas, he could ask the federal court in Little rock to empanel yet another grand jury.

The current special grand jury is Whitewater's second in Little Rock. A previous grand jury, which met for two years, indicted seven people. A newly appointed panel in Washington also is looking into Whitewater-related issues.