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FBI Director James Comey Cancels SXSW Appearance

Variety logo Variety 3/7/2017 Dani Levy
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SXSW announced Tuesday morning that FBI director James Comey will no longer attend the Austin festival due to “scheduling conflicts.” FBI general counsel James Baker will speak in his place.

Comey was scheduled to join Newseum president and CEO Jeffrey Herbst for a discussion on challenges to national security next Monday, March 13. Instead, Herbst and Baker will speak on the topics, including threats from terrorists, new risks from the cyber space, and individual civil liberties and rights.

“While Director Comey is now unable to attend, we’re still really excited that this important conversation will take place,” Herbst said in a statement.

The announcement comes after Comey privately rebutted a claim from President Donald Trump that former President Barack Obama had been wiretapping Trump last fall during the presidential campaign. Trump cited no evidence for the allegation, which would have required a federal judge to rule that Trump was either an agent of foreign power, had committed a crime, or possessed phone lines and Internet being used by a foreign power.

According to CNN, Comey was “incredulous” at the claims and concerned they would reflect poorly on the FBI. Comey, through FBI officials, asked the Department of Justice to publicly refute the claims. The DOJ has not yet addressed any of the allegations. Comey apparently felt “institutionally he has to push back on this” due to the severity and legality of what Trump alleges Obama ordered, a tactic he compared to “McCarthyism.”

A statement from Kevin Lewis, an Obama spokesman, said “A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

The SXSW festival has been including more government and political events in recent years. The “government” track, a part of SXSW’s interactive section of events, “focuses on areas related to government policy on all levels as well as privacy issues on both the personal and corporate level.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden also plans to speak at SXSW, the festival announced Monday. His speech will address solutions for cancer and plans for his “Biden cancer initiative.”

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