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   Officials of the major credit card companies clashed May 25 as they each testified before a Senate hearing. The hearing addressed the government’s lawsuit accusing Visa and MasterCard of banding together to stifle competition by barring member banks from issuing American Express or Discover cards.

     The exchanges grew bitter and personal as the four executives testified less than two weeks before the trial opened. American Express Co.’s chairman, Harvey Golub said Visa and MasterCard operate “under the guise of two names.” Phillip Purcell, chairman of Wall Street powerhouse Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., which owns the Discover card, called Visa the “ringleader’’ of a joint effort to lock out smaller credit cards.

     “The real Visa, not the benign image painted by its lawyers, operates on a cloak of secrecy,’’ Purcell said at the hearing of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions. “Open up competition among the card networks so that market forces, not the conspiratorial acts of two dominant competitors, determine market success,’’ he pleaded.

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