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In his first comments on antitrust policy, Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that he would enforce the competition laws, though he deflected questions about pending deals. Asked about UAL Corp.’s proposed acquisition of US Airways Group and AMR Corp.’s planned purchase of Trans World Airlines Inc., the former Missouri senator said he has experienced the effect of too little airline competition. The comment was an apparent reference to TWA’s dominance of St. Louis, where it operates a hub. “I can tell you that I believe competition is very important,” Ashcroft was quoted by Reuters as saying. He vowed to “maintain the right competition” but noted that the Justice Department has limited jurisdiction. “It has to be based on facts and a thorough investigation of the situation,” he said. Ashcroft did not comment directly on either the UAL-US Airways or the AMR-TWA deals. Robert Lande, a senior research fellow for the American Antitrust Institute and a professor at the University of Baltimore law school, said the comments were encouraging. “This shows he is at least open minded and willing to entertain the possibility that these airline mergers might diminish competition,” said Lande, whose group supports greater enforcement of antitrust laws. “Often when a person experiences less competition, such as Ashcroft in the St. Louis airport, it has a much more significant effect than abstract arguments about competition going up or down.” Ashcroft also declined to say if he supported splitting Microsoft Corp. into an applications company and an operating systems firm. The Justice Department requested that remedy last year in its antitrust fight against Microsoft. A judge ordered the break up, which the company appealed. “The judgment of the District Court obviously would have substantial consequences,” Ashcroft was quoted by Reuters as saying. “I would look very carefully at this case, relying on the expertise of the department in deciding strategy for the case. … And I’m not in a position to assure you that I would do anything other than that, at this time.” Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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