As Joel I. Klein and his trustbusters guzzled champagne earlier this month, working Americans with hard-earned cash in the stock market reached for the Pepto-Bismol. And they’re still reaching.

Mr. Klein, the Justice Department’s top antitrust lawyer, engineered the emasculation of Microsoft Corp., a Nasdaq leader, by arguing that the software-maker is a coercive monopoly, a criminal “predator.”

Joel I. Klein, the Justice Department’s top antitrust lawyer

When a politically pliant judge officially agreed on April 3, Microsoft’s shares tanked, dragging the tech-heavy Nasdaq — and college and retirement funds — down with it. Meanwhile, Klein celebrated.

The smaller-cap index stood at 4572.83 on March 31, the last trading day before Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that the government now has the right to possibly dismember one of the most successful companies in history.

After yesterday’s loss, the Nasdaq shrank back to 3630.09. The index has now lost 21 percent of its value since the Microsoft news.

Of course, the case against Microsoft is nonsense on stilts. Only government can create a coercive monopoly by erecting barriers to entry. Bill Gates built his empire in a free market, on the shoulders of happy consumers.

Who is Joel Klein?
But that doesn’t matter to political hacks like Klein, whose job it is to ensure the perpetuation of the Clinton-Gore-Rodham regime, even if it means smearing an innovative company. Doing the bidding of weenie competitors in exchange for campaign cash is at bottom here, not economics.

Who is Joel Klein? A noted antitrust scholar? A bleeding-heart consumer advocate? Hardly.

Despite his Columbia-cum-Harvard pedigree, Klein is just another gutter-wise legal gun and smear artist hired by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to protect this scandal-plagued White House.

Many Microsoft shareholders may be interested to know that Klein got his start sitting in Vincent Foster’s old chair in the White House counsel’s office. He took over the late Foster’s office — and many of his scandal-containment duties — in late 1993.

Klein’s top job was controlling political damage from the Whitewater investigation. When he wasn’t doing that, he allegedly was digging up dirt on enemies and perceived enemies of the Clintons. A busy man for sure.

Linda Tripp worked with Klein in the White House counsel’s office in 1993 and 1994.

“Joel Klein was someone who scared me,” she said in a Jan. 6, 1999, deposition with Judicial Watch Inc., the first couple’s vexatious litigant.

Histrionics? Maybe. But consider these specifics she offered in another deposition taken Jan. 22, 1999.

Recalling a private chat with Klein’s assistant Julie Mixell, Tripp said, “She said that you don’t want to cross Mr. Klein. She intimated to me that he kept information on people who crossed him.”

Not just random information, but an inventory of files — full of dirt.

Q: Where are these files stored?

A: In Mr. Klein’s office.

Q: In a file cabinet?

A: Yes, in (a) file credenza, as I remember.

Bear in mind that Tripp wasn’t saying all this in a relaxed setting, egged on by “Clinton-haters.” She said it in the presence of a federal court magistrate and a phalanx of Justice Department lawyers.

You have to wonder if the files moved with Klein to his Justice digs (he took Mixell with him). Do they include FBI dossiers? Is there a file on Bill Gates?

The same lawyer supposedly working on the side of justice against big bad Microsoft was doing his best in 1993 and 1994 to stiff-arm FBI agents looking into Foster’s untimely death and the ensuing frantic, late-night search of his office.

‘Snake-oil salesman’
When Tripp complained about Klein to White House lawyer and Clinton confidant Bruce Lindsey, who she thought to be her friend at the time, Tripp said Lindsey warned she would be “destroyed” if she talked to anyone else about Klein.

Lindsey and Klein are reportedly now working together on the Microsoft case going into its punishment phase.

Ironically, Tripp thought she was doing the Clintons a favor speaking out against Klein, who she sized up as a “snake-oil salesman.”

“I felt he was doing a disservice to the first lady and president by the way he operated,” Tripp testified. “I’ve since come to believe that was precisely why he was hired. Clearly they already knew and didn’t mind.”

And who hired Klein? The first lady, Tripp says.

Q: How do you know he was hired by Hillary Clinton?

A: Because Bernie told me.

That would be Bernie Nussbaum, former White House counsel. He and Klein had offices next door to the first lady.

Like Foster, Klein apparently acted as Hillary Clinton’s personal lawyer — at taxpayer expense. In fact, he got her out of her Whitewater and cattle futures jams.

It was Klein who prepped the first lady for her “pink sweater press conference,” which made the Clinton press kittens purr even louder.

“I remember when they came back,” Tripp said. “He (Klein) jumped in the air and whooped and said, ‘We nailed it.'”

Charming. A lawyer supposedly working for the people cheered how he fooled the people, while undermining the rule of law.

Now he’s whooping it up after nailing Microsoft, while punishing high-tech shareholders, many of whom saw their down payment on a new house disappear with Jackson’s ruling. When the judge issues his penalty against Microsoft, they can more than likely kiss their big retirement gains good-bye, too.

In 1994, Klein made a comment that stuck in Tripp’s mind.

After a meeting in his office, Klein came back out into the foyer with a number of other White House lawyers and said: “We are all good lawyers. But in order to survive, we have to be good politicians, too.”

There you have it, the Clinton formula in a nutshell: Politics + legal manipulation = survival and more power.

These aren’t your normal politicians, investors. Ignore them at your peril. Their virulent strain of politics has spread beyond the Beltway and Little Rock to Silicon Valley, and now to Wall Street and right smack into your wallets.

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