Microsoft Still Has a Few Friends

SAN FRANCISCO (04/17/2000) - Last week, some Microsoft Corp. allies took advantage of a routine congressional committee hearing to take aim at the company's chief tormentor, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein.

Klein appeared with U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky at a House Judiciary Committee antitrust oversight hearing. Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (Republican, Illinois) kicked off the hearing by saying he didn't schedule it "in response to any recent event." Nonetheless, Hyde's Republican colleagues used the hearing as a forum to criticize Klein.

Since U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson found Microsoft guilty of antitrust law violations earlier this month, the case has sparked a flurry of political activity. Several federal lawmakers have publicly questioned the sagacity of the case. Representative J.C. Watts (Republican, Oklahoma), the fourth-ranking Republican House member, sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno suggesting that the U.S. Department of Justice focus instead on enforcing campaign finance and gun laws. Last week Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy visited Capitol Hill -- a response to Bill Gates' own recent Capitol Hill tour. And political consultant Ralph Reed was embarrassed into revealing that his firm has been lobbying wealthy backers of George W.

Bush to complain about the case to the Republican presidential hopeful.

"Did the Justice Department take a look at Microsoft and say, 'There's a target?'" Representative George Gekas (Republican, Pennsylvania) asked Klein at last week's hearing.

"I want to assure you personally that, to me, every case is a question of the facts and the law," Klein replied. "We don't single out any company." Klein admitted, however, that a complaint from Netscape was a "trigger factor" in the Justice Department investigation leading to the current case.

Klein wasn't always on the defensive. Microsoft's folksy new TV ad campaign that featured Gates drew fire from Representative John Conyers (Democrat, Michigan), the committee's ranking minority member. Conyers accused Republicans of "using this case as a fundraising cash cow" and "attempting to futilely intimidate" the Justice Department.

After his appearance, Klein brushed aside questions on the specifics of the government's remedy proposal to the judge. "We're working through the process," Klein said. "Other people may try to speculate, may try to spin, may try to lead us, but we're going to do our work."

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