While not quite a dress rehearsal for next month's antitrust trial against Visa and MasterCard, a Senate hearing scheduled for today could open a window on whether the card associations' rivals, American Express Co. and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., have succeeded in steering the process.

The hearing, called by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, for the purpose of addressing "alleged antitrust violations by Visa and MasterCard," will have no effect on the outcome of the trial. But it will give Philip Purcell, chairman and chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley, and Harvey Golub, chairman and chief executive officer of American Express, an opportunity to vent publicly their beliefs that Visa and MasterCard are violating U.S. antitrust laws.

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