Reporters asked about Monica Lewinsky. They asked about prosecutor Ken-neth Starr. Then they asked again. And again. But President Clinton's answer stayed basically the same: "I just have nothing to say."

At his first solo news conference this year, Clinton offered all sorts of variations on "no comment" in response to 16 questions related to Starr's investigation of the president's relationship with Lewinsky and an alleged cover-up."Since I have answered the underlying questions, I really believe it's important for me not to say any more about this," Clinton told reporters Thursday in the White House's East Room. "I'm, in some ways, the last person who needs to be having a national conversation about this."

That said, Clinton went on to decry "a hard, well-financed, vigorous effort over a long period of time" to drag down his presidency. But he said he would not respond to his detractors with eye-for-an-eye vengeance.

"If I were to answer them in kind, it would be more a reflection on my character than on their reputation," Clinton said. "I do not think the right thing for me to do is to respond in kind. The right thing for me to do is to let others defend me as best they can."

He didn't bite when asked about the actions of Starr, whom some Democrats have characterized as an extremist bent on destroying the president: "If there's one person in the world I'm not responsible for, it's Mr. Starr."

Asked if he thinks Starr is out to get him, Clinton said, "I think modestly observant people are fully capable of drawing their own con-clu-sions."

The president said it would not be appropriate to ask Attorney General Janet Reno to remove Starr from his post. He would not discuss Starr's attempts to question him.

"I don't have anything to say about that," Clinton said.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Clinton felt good about the responses he gave in the 57-minute news conference. He noted that this session "certainly was a far cry" from Clinton's Feb. 6 appearance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which nearly every question was about Lew-in-sky.

"He enjoyed the mix of questions," McCurry said. "He wished that they had moved on to more subjects, but he was glad that it wasn't totally preoccupied with one matter."

Clinton was also reluctant to comment on another sensitive topic - the ups and downs of the stock market.

"I didn't comment on it when it dropped a lot, and I don't think I should now," he said as the market surged Thursday.