In the middle of his 539th and final "spin" session in the White House briefing room, Mike McCurry admitted there was one thing he refused to do as presidential press secretary - open himself up to a subpoena from independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

So for the past eight months, McCurry sorted through questions about the Monica Lewinsky matter to decide which ones to put to President Clinton. That prevented him from inadvertently jeopardizing the president's executive privilege with his advisers and kept him out of the parade of Clinton aides going before a federal grand jury.McCurry said Thursday he "would have been an open sitting duck for Ken Starr."

"I wasn't interested in being subpoenaed. I am not at all ashamed of that decision. I think it's the right one in the interests of the president, the presidency, and it was in my own personal self-interest."

Those were among many farewell nuggets McCurry offered for the reporters who will not have him to kick around anymore. Thursday's final briefing was his 539th time McCurry has briefed reporters at the White House since he took the job in January 1995.

Widely praised as a master of spin - putting the best possible light on administration policy, McCurry called himself "the chum in the feeding frenzy" and took delight in his occasional role of double agent between the standoffish Clinton White House and the hungry press corps.

"I know that at times I came up short," McCurry said. "Some days have been less fun than other days, but on balance, it's always been an honor to work here."

"Well, you've done a good job," offered Helen Thomas, UPI's longtime White House correspondent and at 78, the dean of the press corps.

"Thanks, Sweets," McCurry said. "Helen and I always had a thing for each other!"

At the end, he declared the transfer of power to his successor, Joe Lockhart, would be seamless. Lockhart takes over the briefings on Monday.

"It's not about the personality of the people who are here," McCurry said - even as he admitted, "I will certainly enjoy whatever notoriety I have and I will certainly use it to the good fortune of my family in the future."

Does that mean he is planning to get rich with a book?

"No. Well, not immediately," McCurry said. "If I ever write a book, I don't want it to be about this business."

He would rather write about how to communicate public policy in the Information Age, "a textbook that might get ordered over and over again" on college campuses.