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World's tech leaders, convened in secret, talk Trump

Tim Cook, Larry Page and Elon Musk joined billionaires and politicos in debating the Republican hopeful, according to the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump is the center of attention, even in places where he isn't welcome.

Porter Gifford/Corbis

What do the billionaires, politicians and tech leaders of the world talk about when they get together? The same things as the rest of us, it seems. And right now that means Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Google co-founder Larry Page and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk were among attendees at the hush-hush World Forum this weekend, according to the Huffington Post. The tech elite joined a number of high-profile guests at the annual retreat held at an exclusive resort on Sea Island, Georgia.

Hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank, the forum is notoriously secretive. But attendee Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, has shed light on some of what took place at the event, saying in an email seen by the Huffington Post that Trump was "a specter ... haunting the World Forum."

The confab took place amid heightened tensions between the tech sector and the US government, stirred up by the struggle over encryption between Apple and the FBI. But it's no surprise that Trump, already dominating the political discussion, was center of attention at the World Forum -- to which, it should be pointed out, he was not invited. It turns out, he's something both sides can agree on.

"There was much unhappiness about his emergence, a good deal of talk, some of it insightful and thoughtful, about why he's done so well, and many expressions of hope that he would be defeated," said Kristol about Trump's spectral presence.

Musk expressed his opinion publicly on Trump last October at the Vanity Fair summit. "I don't really have strong feelings except that hopefully Trump doesn't get the nomination of the Republican party," Mashable reported the entrepreneur as saying.

Page has not publicly stated any opinion on Trump. Google bigwigs in the past have leaned toward Democratic figures, most notably Google Chairman Eric Schmidt enjoying a close relationship with President Barack Obama.

Cook, meanwhile, has not so much taken a stance on Trump as the Republican frontrunner has taken a stance on him. The candidate blasted the Apple CEO for not handing the FBI the keys it would need to crack into an iPhone used by a terrorist who carried out December's attack in San Bernardino, California. Trump has also vowed to somehow force Apple to build its products in the US.

The FBI-Apple standoff did have a moment at the World Forum, with Cook given a hard time over the encryption debate by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, according to Huffington Post sources. Cotton has openly criticized Cook over the past few months, but was accused of being "pretty harsh" when the two came face to face. "Everyone was a little uncomfortable about how hostile Cotton was," one source reportedly said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The American Enterprise Institute also did not respond to a request for comment from CNET, but a spokeswoman told the Huffington Post: "The event is private and off the record, therefore we do not comment further on the content or attendees."