DENVER (CBS4) – Former President George W. Bush has canceled plans to visit Denver. The former president made the decision after learning that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was also invited to attend the same event.
Bush planned to speak at Saturday’s Young Presidents Organization’s “Global Leadership Summit” at the Convention Center on Saturday, Feb. 26, but backed out when he learned Assange was invited.
The annual conference attracts about 2,000 business leaders from 75 countries.
John Nicolakakis from South Africa told CBS4′s Tom Mustin that Bush’s decision was a disappointment.
“I do understand, but in the same breath he has let down a group of people who might have come just to see him,” said Nicolakakis.
Wikileaks has been criticized for releasing secret U.S. government and military documents.
Bush spokesman David Sherzer spoke to Mustin by phone. He said the former president “doesn’t want to share a forum with someone who has willfully and repeatedly done great harm to the interests of the United States.”
Assange spoke to the group by teleconference on Friday. He’s in Britain, fighting extradition to Sweden in a sex crimes inquiry. YPO members have strong opinions on both sides.
Eric Kurtzman from Las Vegas said, “If Bush had a problem with Assange or anything he said, Bush should have come and represented his case,”
Roger Chasteen from Tulsa disagreed. “We really wanted to see him here. But as an American we respect his decision.”
Bush also had planned to attend a separate education discussion in Denver but won’t attend that either. The YPO issued a statement saying it regretted the president’s decision, but looked forward to working with him in the future.
-by CBS4 Reporter/Anchor Tom Mustin