A Grudge Match With Microsoft?

THE JUSTICE DEPT. SEEMS understandably sensitive after a judge slammed its July antitrust settlement with Microsoft as too lenient. So is Justice now trying to scuttle Microsoft's $2 billion acquisition of Intuit to show that the feds aren't getting soft? Maybe so, if you look at the timing of how Justice handled the banks, who worry that their bids to launch online financial services would suffer as a result of the union.

Back in October, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates proposed buying Intuit, whose Quicken program dominates the personal-finance software market. Yet Justice had questioned few bankers as it examined the deal. All that changed in mid-February, when U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin rejected the Justice-Microsoft pact. Soon after, Justice flooded the banking industry with subpoenas to get its views on the Intuit deal. On Apr. 27, antitrust chief Anne Bingaman sued to block the deal.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Sunshine says that there's no connection between Sporkin's blast and the Intuit action. Antitrust lawyer Jeffrey Jacobovitz, who has filed complaints about the Justice-Microsoft settlement, contends that Justice "had no alternative but to challenge the merger because of the negative publicity Justice had gotten."