When President Bush tapped Charles A. James to take over the antitrust suit the Clinton Administration brought against Microsoft, the company's defenders thought they had reason to cheer. James, the new head of the Justice Dept.'s antitrust division, calls himself a "bedrock" conservative and a skeptic of regulation.
So far, however, he has been anything but friendly to the software giant. He has amassed a team of tough prosecutors to continue with the case and pressed the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to expedite the process of meting out Microsoft's punishment. A devotee of rap music, bodybuilding, and Porsches, James brings to the job more flair than many of his predecessors. On July 31, when the 47-year-old lawyer met with BusinessWeek legal affairs correspondent Dan Carney, it was his first on-the-record interview since taking office.
Q: What did you think of the Court of Appeals ruling that found Microsoft had illegally maintained its monopoly?
A: I thought it was a very sturdy and durable ruling. It was a very positive decision for the government. Just about any practicing antitrust lawyer who followed the trial would not have been particularly surprised.
Q: Some of your colleagues from private practice say that, before coming to Justice, you thought that breaking Microsoft in two was an extreme remedy.
A: I don't necessarily think that is correct. The remedy is [that] the case is an issue that is very complex. I don't think I ever had enough real information to be an expert on what the remedy should be.
During my confirmation hearings, people focused on comments that I made that, to my way of thinking, were comments on the range of possibilities -- "on the one hand, on the other hand" types of things. They did not indicate a belief that a [remedy involving a breakup of Microsoft] was correct or incorrect. My views on remedy are now being informed by a very detailed immersion in the facts.
Q: What general principles will you be looking at?
A: I can't talk about that. That's part of the evaluation process that is going on right now.
Q: Isn't there a provision in the ruling that requires a remedy to cover future, as well as past, behavior?
A: The standard formulation on remedy is that it ought to cure past violations and prevent their recurrence. That's what antitrust is all about. And to the extent this is an antitrust case -- that's what the remedy will be about in this instance.
Q: I got the impression that Microsoft got under the skin of a lot of people. Has it gotten under your skin?
A: This really isn't about me. It's about the public's antitrust enforcement. To the extent that these things get personalized, you lose sight of that. I recognize that virtually every company that comes in here has a perspective. It's often not difficult to understand why they have the perspective that they have. I don't mind their advocacy. I anticipate their advocacy. These are lawyers doing their job. I'm just trying to do mine.
Q: Your vigorous pursuit of this case has surprised a number of people. Are they right to be surprised?
A: One of the most interesting things about this job is encountering the perceptions people have of me. I'm the person I've always been. People are now having the opportunity to see who that is, rather than presuming -- or assuming -- things based on less-than-perfect information.
Q: What did you think of the work of your predecessor, Joel Klein?
A: I don't anticipate there will be any sea change in enforcement policy. The antitrust division has been left in very good shape by Joel Klein. I've found a number of enforcement issues I'm happy to pursue.
Q: You have recused yourself from the case against American Airlines?
Q: And the case against Visa and MasterCard?
A: I'm recused.
Q: So when it comes to nonmerger civil enforcement, you're focused on Microsoft?
A: And whatever we come up with. Civil enforcement is larger than just cases that are being litigated. Cases we are investigating are as important, if not more important.
Q: When were your views on antitrust formed?
A: My views are borne of a couple of things. One is sort of bedrock conservatism that causes me to question the wisdom of replacing free-market competition with regulation. My views were also formed with my counterpart [FTC chairman] Tim Muris [who worked with James at the FTC in the early 1980s] and [former FTC Chairman] Jim Miller.
We are also, in some ways, a product of our times. The fact of the matter is, I benefited from coming up at time when economic analysis began to supplant legalisms in dealing with problems of antitrust.
Q: What single person most influenced your career?
A: If I had to pick one I'd say William E. Swope. In the very first investigation I led as an FTC staff lawyer, he beat me like a drum. Then he hired me as an associate [at Jones Day, Reavis & Pogue] and taught me how to be an antitrust lawyer.
Q: What book most influenced you?
A: Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities. The lesson of that book is: Never start believing your own press.
Q: How does one reconcile Charles James, the respected, somewhat low-key lawyer, with Charles James, the bodybuilding, rap-listening Porsche driver?
A: You can be a competent antitrust lawyer and still have fun. I'm big on having fun.