WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is preparing a possible antitrust challenge to Oracle's $7.3 billion hostile takeover bid for rival software company PeopleSoft, USA Today reported Thursday, citing attorneys familiar with the deal.

Justice Department lawyers were asking current and potential customers of PeopleSoft Inc. (PSFT: Research, Estimates) and Oracle Corp. (ORCL: Research, Estimates) for statements that could be used as evidence at trial, the newspaper reported.

USA Today reported that several former antitrust enforcers said the so-called "customer declarations" were a strong signal the Justice Department lawyers might recommend that the takeover bid be blocked.

According to the newspaper, the department has named one of its most senior antitrust lawyers to the probe in what was seen as another sign that regulators are serious about opposing the deal.

James Rill, Oracle's antitrust lawyer, dismissed suggestions that the Justice department was preparing to sue, the newspaper said.

A Justice Department spokesman was not immediately available for comment to Reuters early on Thursday. An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment.

A challenge to Oracle's bid for the smaller company could kill one of the biggest tech deals ever and would extend the already months-long period software buyers have been in limbo, USA Today said.

Oracle's bid for PeopleSoft Inc. also is under review by antitrust regulators in Europe

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