SEATTLE (AP) _ House Speaker Newt Gingrich has suggested that the Justice Department should focus on more important priorities than its antitrust probe of Microsoft Corp.

Gingrich made his comments Tuesday at a fund-raiser for Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., just a few miles from Microsoft's headquarters in suburban Redmond.

``The Justice Department could do a variety of things,'' Gingrich said in a speech. ``They could be looking more effectively into bringing drugs into the country illegally; they could be looking more effectively at illegal foreign campaign contributions.

``There are a range of opportunities for the Justice Department other than trying to destroy jobs at one of America's leading companies and trying to weaken America's role in the world market.''

A lawsuit filed by the Justice Department and 20 states accuses Microsoft of using unfair business practices to protect its domination of computer operating systems and other software.

Gingrich also chastised Justice officials for going international with their concerns about Microsoft.

``When the Justice Department began to raise questions about Microsoft the way they did, all over the world, other countries also began to raise questions,'' he said. ``There's some very real questions whether or not there was in fact collusion by the American Justice Department encouraging foreign governments to file a lawsuit against an American company.''

``The purpose of the American government is to strengthen American companies in the world market and increase American exports in the world market, not to undermine American companies,'' he said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman defended the agency's conduct.

``The charge that the department colluded with, solicited or encouraged foreign governments to take legal action is completely false,'' spokeswoman Gina Talamona said.

She said it was proper for the department to press its case against Microsoft in order to protect consumers and enforce the law.