- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

George W. Bush refuses to condemn the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, but some of his advisers say he would not have allowed the suit to be filed and would drop it if he became president.

Close political and economic advisers to Mr. Bush who are familiar with his thinking in the case say he believes the Clinton administration's antitrust action against the computer software giant is harmful to the technology industry and to the economy as a whole.

"This is not a case he would support as president," a political adviser to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said yesterday.

"If this was still on appeal by the time he came into office and had not reached the Supreme Court, I think he would do what happened in the IBM case. I think the suit would be dropped," said another Bush associate who advises him on economic and legal matters.

A Justice Department antitrust lawsuit that was filed against IBM on the final day of President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration was dropped 13 years later by the Reagan administration. Martin Anderson, who served as President Reagan's chief domestic adviser at the time and is now a top adviser to Mr. Bush's presidential campaign, said yesterday Mr. Reagan "would not have brought this case."

Another Bush adviser said "no one in the Reagan or [former President George] Bush administrations would have brought this suit."

Mr. Bush's hostility toward trial lawyers and government lawsuits is well known. Earlier this year he told a campaign audience in Seattle, close to Microsoft's headquarters, that he thinks "government regulation through litigation" is bad economic policy. But he decided to sidestep last week's U.S. District Court ruling against Microsoft with a benign, two-sentence statement that ducked the issue.

"Because the Microsoft case remains in litigation, no remedies have been decided, and is likely to be appealed, I do not think it's appropriate to discuss the specifics of a matter that is pending before the court," he said in a statement April 3 after Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson handed down his ruling that Microsoft's dominance in the software market had been harmful to consumers. Microsoft is appealing.

Mr. Bush added, "As president, I will fully enforce antitrust laws to foster competition and innovation, to protect consumers, and to guard against anti-competitive conduct."

But when he was campaigning in Washington state, Mr. Bush was sharply critical of the lawsuit.

"I stand on the side of innovation, not litigation," Mr. Bush said at a news conference at the time.

"I am not going to talk about the merits of this case, but I think it is very important for our society, when there is innovation taking place, to understand the consequences of litigation," he said.

"What I am worried about is if this company were to be broken up, this engine of change and this engine of growth," he said.

Clearly referring to the Justice Department's antitrust action," Mr. Bush said, "I am not sympathetic to lawsuits. Write that down. I worry about lawsuits on job creation. If you are looking for the kind of president I will be, I will be slow to litigate."

Sen. Slade Gorton, Washington Republican and Mr. Bush's state campaign chairman, said at the time, "I don't think a Bush administration would have brought [the antitrust lawsuit] in the first place."

However, no one on the Bush campaign, or even among his outside advisers, was willing to speak on the record about what they believed Mr. Bush's views are on the merits of the Microsoft case and what he would do as president if the suit were still pending.

"He has said that it would be inappropriate to discuss the case while it is before the courts and that remains his position," said Scott McClellan, a spokesman for the Bush campaign in Austin.

But a close political adviser, who did not want to be identified, said Mr. Bush "has been very strongly for legal reform and against public policy being set by litigation. He thinks public policy ought to be set by elected officials rather than by a handful of lawyers and judges."

Some Republican strategists were critical of Mr. Bush's neutral statement about the Microsoft ruling last week, saying that he should have seized the opportunity to attack the Clinton-Gore administration's antitrust policy.

"There's a huge wedge issue here for George Bush, if he's true to his instincts and makes the case against anti-consumer and anti-growth and anti-stock-market trust-busting," said economist Larry Kudlow.

Some technology industry officials disagreed with that assessment yesterday. They say they understood the "political reasons" why Mr. Bush would not tip his hand about what he would do in a pending judicial case if he is elected in November. But others said they wished he had been more forthcoming in his April 3 statement.

"I wish he would have taken a stronger position," said Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, which represents 9,000 technology companies around the country.

"We don't want this industry run by politicians and lawyers. We don't want judges designing software," Mr. Zuck said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide