Neither the firing of U.S. attorneys nor the Microsoft-Google fight is scheduled to be a topic during his Seattle appearance.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will be under a microscope today when he visits Washington state. Make that two microscopes.
First, Gonzales will be making his first appearance in the Pacific Northwest since a controversy erupted over the firings last year of eight federal prosecutors, including John McKay, the former U.S. attorney for Western Washington.
Second, Gonzales will be speaking in Microsoft’s back yard a day after an antitrust complaint from Google, a top rival of the local software giant, was aired in a Washington, D.C., court.
The attorney general is scheduled to deliver a breakfast speech this morning at the Westin Seattle to members of TechNet Northwest, a bipartisan political and policy organization that represents the interests of technology companies. Gonzales’ remarks will focus on the Justice Department’s efforts to protect intellectual property and combat cyber-crime, according to a media advisory.
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Given Gonzales’ tightly controlled itinerary in Seattle and the narrow focus of the remarks he is expected to deliver here, there is a good chance he will not discuss either issue publicly.
Google complained last year to the Justice Department that a feature of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system hindered competition. Microsoft has agreed to make changes in response.
As the story unfolded in recent weeks, it was revealed that the top Justice Department antitrust official wrote a memo in April urging state government lawyers involved in the issue to reject the Google complaint, The New York Times reported.
The memo was one of several examples cited in the report that the Justice Department under the Bush administration has been an ally to Microsoft rather than an antagonist on antitrust matters.
During a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to assess Microsoft’s compliance with the landmark 2001 antitrust settlement, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly deferred to the federal and state government attorneys enforcing the settlement on whether to impose additional sanctions against Microsoft in response to a renewed complaint from Google. The government attorneys have expressed satisfaction with the changes Microsoft already committed to make.
The attorney general has been widely criticized over the U.S. attorney firings in December, and both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have called on him to resign. Critics of the firings have alleged they were politically motivated to influence ongoing investigations, particularly public-corruption cases or election probes.
Gonzales has apologized for how the dismissals were handled but has defended the firings, noting that U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. He has vowed to remain in his post, and President Bush has repeatedly expressed support for his attorney general.
Gonzales has not discussed the firings in recent public appearances.
McKay, who is now senior vice president and general counsel of Getty Images in Seattle, said he will not attend and had no comment on Gonzales’ visit.
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, is also not expected to attend, although he is a member of TechNet’s executive council.
“We have a [Microsoft] board of directors meeting tomorrow,” Smith said. “It starts at 7:30 in the morning and I won’t be able to go.”
Gonzales is not expected to discuss Google’s complaints about Microsoft, according to Justice Department spokeswoman Kim Smith.
The invitation-only event is for members and guests of TechNet. About 50 to 100 people are expected to attend, according to a TechNet representative. The attorney general will take no questions from the media after the TechNet event.
After his Seattle visit, Gonzales will fly to Spokane, where he will participate in a roundtable discussion with the Spokane Gang Enforcement Team on local efforts to combat gang violence.
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