Ohio Sen. Rob Portman: 'Never let North Korea off the hook' for Otto Warmbier's death

Anne Saker

Republican Sen. Rob Portman said “we should never let North Korea off the hook” for Otto Warmbier after President Donald Trump said Thursday he did not hold North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responsible for the 22-year-old's death.

“We must remember Otto, and we should never let North Korea off the hook for what they did to him,” Portman said in a statement hours after Trump completed a summit with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam.

On Thursday, as his summit with Kim ended, Trump said he did not place blame on the North Korean government.

"I don't believe he knew about it," Trump said of Kim. "He tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word."

'I don't believe he knew about it.': Trump defends Kim Jong Un on Otto Warmbier's death

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In 2016, a then-21-year-old Warmbier was arrested for committing a "hostile act" and later confessed to stealing a poster from a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor and served 15 months before he was sent home to his parents in Ohio in June 2017. He arrived in a coma with a massive brain injury and later died. 

Warmbier returned to Cincinnati in what doctors later described as a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” – blind, unable to walk or talk and bedridden. Testing showed that his brain had been in progressive decline.

In December, Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier of Wyoming, won a $501 million judgment against the North Korea government for his wrongful death.

"I think they're an incredible family," Trump said of the Warmbiers. "What happened is horrible."

More: Trump-Kim summit: Fact checking President Donald Trump's claims about North Korea

More: Five things we learned from the Warmbiers’ court victory over North Korea

In 2017, Trump raised Otto Warmbier’s story as he promised “to handle” North Korea. The president described Warmbier's parents as "powerful witnesses" to North Korea's horrors during his 2018 State of the Union as the family watched from a guest box in the House chamber.

Trump's former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted out her support for the Warmbier family on Thursday.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio Sen. Rob Portman: 'Never let North Korea off the hook' for Otto Warmbier's death