WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal appeals court cleared the way today for the Justice Department to investigate the official conduct of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.

The special court that names independent counsels dismissed a challenge by Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative group that sought an order to block the Justice Department investigation.

The court said it had limited jurisdiction and could not go beyond the powers set out in the Ethics In Government Act.

``That act enumerates our limited powers. The enumeration does not include the relief prayed (sought) by Landmark ...'' the court said, adding it had no power to review the attorney general's actions involving an independent counsel.

The court also said that Landmark could not legally sustain its case because the organization has not ``suffered a concrete and actual or imminent injury'' by the Justice Department's investigation.

``We find nothing in Landmark's motion that could even remotely be considered an injury to itself,'' the court said.

Both the Justice Department and Starr's office opposed Landmark's request, arguing that the court was without authority to act on the matter.

The department is investigating allegations of irregularities by Starr's office, including the initial handling of information on the Monica Lewinsky matter; Starr's request to the department for jurisdiction to investigate Ms. Lewinsky's relationship with the president; and his conduct during the investigation, including the initial meetings between the counsel's office and Ms. Lewinsky in January 1998.

The decision comes at a time that several key lawyers are leaving Starr's office.