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Gates hits Washington in serial lobbying schmooze

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MS on Trial Bill Gates is one of the very few people in the US who can fix five top-level lobbying meetings at very short notice on Capitol Hill, and then go on the same afternoon to join President Clinton's New Economy Summit at the White House. Gates changed his slot at Microsoft's government leaders conference in Seattle, upstaging William Daley, the US Secretary of Commerce, and then flew off to the other Washington to prepare his lobbying effort. There were five closed-door meetings with the Senate and Republican caucuses and a private meeting with Senator Trent Lott, the majority leader, as well as a GOP senators lunch. Ed Black, president of the CCIA, from which Microsoft resigned recently and which produced a brief supporting the DoJ, observed that "Microsoft is now trying to use money, muscle and political connections to win what it couldn't achieve in a court of law". At a meeting with Republicans from the House, Gates expressed the view that a new administration would "probably" make a difference to the outcome of the case. Reports from both sides suggest that Gates did not directly request anything, although he mentioned the trial briefly, so it seems that the meetings were ritualistic let's-get-acquainted affairs. Topics he raised included his need for more visas so that Microsoft could take on more foreign staff, Internet taxes, encryption, and the future of technology. Gates evidently heard positive sentiment from some 60 Republicans, who urged him to resist giving in to the "oppressiveness" of the DoJ. Senator Gorton (Republican, Washington), a Microsoft supporter, said that he thought Microsoft would prefer to take its appeal chances with the Court of Appeals, rather than the Supreme Court. Senator Hatch (Republican, Utah) wondered why Gates was on Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers when it was in court itself. Senator Lott (Republican, Mississippi) was more neutral about Gates, but made the curious claim that DoJ lawyers were getting into the policy area, which was odd, as the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees will apparently hold hearings on the subject while the trial is still in progress. This is a second example of there being a less than perfect separation of powers - this time between the legislature and the judiciary - which compounds the concern about possible presidential interference in the case of Bush winning the presidency. Bill managed a bite of lunch with the GOP senators, but neither the menu nor hard details of what was discussed were disclosed. But just as the session that Gates attended began, Joe Lockhart, the President's press secretary was answering some pointed questions as to why Gates was at a meeting with the President in view of recent events. There were no qualms about the invitation, Lockhart said, noting some of the work of the Gates' Foundation.  During the time Gates spent at the President's meeting, he spoke generally about technology issues and departed considerably from the text put out by Microsoft, not mentioning for example that Microsoft was working on a pilot project at 500 schools to supply laptops, as stated in Microsoft's text. He went into more detail about the work of his foundation, and bringing Microsoft's work with the handicapped into a reply to a question. There was of course no mention of the trial and no clue about the events of less than 48 hours earlier. Gates made his remarks between those of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank. It was politicing at its finest. So far, Microsoft has spent $3 million on "political contributions" since the trial began. ® Complete Register Trial coverage

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