Lawmakers shower praise on DOJ for Microsoft suit

In a scheduled meeting with lawmakers, DOJ antitrust chief Joel Klein was the subject of a veritable love fest for his agency's work in obtaining a guilty verdict against Microsoft Corporation in its antitrust trial. There were a few detractors, of course, but Klein's routine antitrust oversight meeting before the House of Representatives, which he attended with FTC counterpart Robert Pitofsky, was interesting because he hinted that the government was "leaning away from" suggesting a breakup of the software giant. And even the few critics of the DOJ investigation were essentially quieted with charges of "partisan politics." Essentially, it was just another day on Capitol Hill.

"Law enforcement shouldn't be a partisan matter," Klein told the group of lawmakers, noting the central problem with Microsoft's monopolies. "America's economy is the greatest because it's the most competitive."

In response to a question about settlement, Klein noted that such an outcome was still possible. "Effective settlement is always preferable," Klein said. "We're prepared to \[attempt\] to do so again, but it would need to address the court's findings if there were a settlement."

Noting that most of the public disagrees with the DOJ's lawsuit against Microsoft, representative Joe Scarborough, a Republican, said, "I might support you more if you'd go after illegal Chinese fundraising as hard as you go after Microsoft." But representative George Gekas, also a Republican, retorted that he typically receives up to 15,000 complaints from constituents about various issues. To date, he's received none about the Microsoft antitrust trial.

"We don't single out targets,'' Klein told the lawmakers, explaining that the Microsoft investigation was the result of numerous complaints over a period of years. And the DOJ, he said, even allowed Microsoft to buy WebTV, though that was one acquisition they looked at very closely before giving the go-ahead. Klein noted that very few companies are likely to be subject to the kind of scrutiny Microsoft faces, because so few companies command just obvious monopolies.

Looking forward, the DOJ faces an April 28 deadline for submitting its remedy proposal, though Klein says that the government is now unlikely to suggest a breakup of Microsoft. The agency is, however, considering a variety of options in the meantime. "Until then, other may people may try to speculate, may try to spin, and may try to lean us, but we're going to do our work,'' Klein said. After the judge examines the proposed remedies, the two sides will meet in court on May 24 for hearings that will ultimately determine Microsoft's fate. For now, however, the message from the Hill is clear: The DOJ, and Klein specifically, are doing a good job enforcing the antitrust laws of the United States

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