How Would Ashcroft Handle Microsoft Anti-Trust Case?

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - President-elect George W. Bush's choice of Sen. John Ashcroft
(R-Mo.) to be U.S. attorney general may have important implications in the government's anti-trust case against Microsoft.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson back in June sided with prosecutors from the Clinton Justice Department and ordered Microsoft to split itself into two companies, a ruling Microsoft is appealing.

Although Ashcroft once described Microsoft as a monopoly, during a 1998 Judiciary Committee hearing, Cato Institute senior fellow Bob Levy says Ashcroft's appointment will be welcome news for the software giant.

"I don't think Microsoft would be upset that Ashcroft will be Attorney General," said Levy. "I think that's good news for Microsoft."

Levy, an expert on the case against Microsoft, says Ashcroft may not have to do much to get rid of the case.

"The case is so far along now, and the likelihood of reversal by the D.C. Circuit [court] is so high that it's probably going to play itself out," said Levy. "One of two things is likely to happen: If the case is reversed, I don't think that the [Bush/Ashcroft] Justice Department will seek review at the Supreme Court and so the whole thing will just die," he said.

"The other possibility is that it won't be reversed but remanded (sent back) to" another District Court judge, said Levy. If the case is remanded due to procedural errors or excessive monetary "remedies" imposed on Microsoft, Levy believes the Justice Department and Microsoft will try to settle the case "to avoid a prolonged, protracted legal second round."

Either scenario would not affect the case against Microsoft pursued by 19 state attorneys general.

Levy says a potential wild card in the federal case will the person chosen to head the Justice Department's anti-trust division. "I would guess Ashcroft would call the shots, [but the selection] could make a difference," said Levy.

Ashcroft has accepted campaign contributions from the software giant. Microsoft founder Bill Gates personally contributed $1,000 to Ashcroft's "Spirit of America" Political Action Committee in 1998. This year, Microsoft's PAC reportedly contributed $5,000 to the Ashcroft Victory Committee PAC.

Neither Microsoft nor the office of Sen. Ashcroft returned calls seeking comment.