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Microsoft Main Topic at Hearing

By EUN-KYUNG KIM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers showered mostly praise on the Justice Department's antitrust chief as he defended his agency's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. (NasdaqNM:MSFT - news) during a House hearing.

But a few also tossed in some barbs.

Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., said he refused to participate in the House Judiciary Committee's ``love fest'' over the way Assistant U.S. Attorney General Joel Klein handled the case against the software giant.

``I might support you more if you would go after illegal Chinese fund raising as hard as you've gone after Microsoft,'' he told Klein.

The hearing Wednesday was a routine oversight meeting on the government's two antitrust enforcement agencies: the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Klein testified before lawmakers along with his FTC counterpart, chairman Robert Pitofsky.

Rep. Henry Hyde, the Illinois Republican who chairs the committee, said the meeting had been scheduled since January. Last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that Microsoft violated antitrust laws by illegally using its monopoly power.

``I did not schedule this hearing in response to any particular recent event,'' Hyde said, nor did he schedule it ``for the purpose of criticizing any particular action'' of the agencies.

``Every one would benefit from a toning down of the rhetoric,'' he said.

That didn't stop committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, from suggesting that some Republicans were using the Microsoft case to benefit partisan issues.

``We hope there will not be those who are using this case as a fund-raising cash cow or an attempt to intimidate the Department of Justice,'' he said.

Scarborough took issue with the government's argument that Microsoft's behavior had hurt competition in the high-tech industry: ``This argument that innovation has been crushed just doesn't square up.''

He also accused the Justice Department of leaking information about recent settlement attempts. Klein vehemently denied the charge.

Asked by Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., ``what spurred the Justice Department to move against Microsoft,'' Klein assured lawmakers that the government conducted a lengthy investigation grounded in ``fact-based analysis'' before it proceeded with its lawsuit against the company.

``We don't single out targets,'' he said.

After the hearing, Klein was asked about a published report that said attorneys for the government and the 19 states that brought the case against Microsoft were ``leaning against'' recommending a breakup of the software giant.

Klein said the government is considering divestiture, as well as ``a variety of options,'' as it crafts its remedy proposal to recommend to Jackson. The government has until April 28 to submit its proposal.

``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.

In prepared remarks he submitted to Hyde's committee, Klein said the while government officials are ``committed to seeking relief that will stimulate competition, innovation and consumer choice in this important market, we have not made a final decision regarding the relief that we will recommend to the court.''

Jackson has scheduled a May 24 hearing on the issue


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