President Donald Trump responded to criticism Friday about his apparent acceptance of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s denial that he had any involvement in the death of a young American who had been held in North Korean custody.
“Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death,” Trump tweeted about Otto Warmbier, an Ohio college student who was arrested for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster during a trip to North Korea in 2016. When he was released in June 2017, he was in a coma with a brain injury and he died soon after his return to the U.S.
After meeting with Kim in Vietnam for a summit on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Trump told reporters on Thursday, that Kim “felt badly about” Warmbier’s death.
“I don’t believe he knew about it,” referring to Kim’s involvement in Warmbier’s death. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family. Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous Administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch. Of course I hold North Korea responsible….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2019
….for Otto’s mistreatment and death. Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2019
The remarks drew wide criticism, including from Warmbier’s parents.
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement on Friday by their lawyer. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
Experts said that is virtually impossible that in an authoritarian regime like North Korea that one of the few Americans in their custody could have been tortured without Kim’s consent.
“I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family” Trump tweeted Friday without explaining how his remarks, which were delivered in English, had been misrepresented.
The president proceeded to deflect blame on the Obama administration, explaining that he was the one who had secured Warmbier’s release while his predecessor had been in office when Warmbier was detained.
Trump said that Warmbier “will not have died in vain” and that his family was a “symbol of strong passion and strength.”
“I love Otto and think of him often!” the president tweeted.