President Trump on Friday responded to a report that he approved a $2 million bill presented by North Korea to cover the medical costs for Otto Warmbier, an American college student who fell into a coma in North Korean custody and died shortly after being returned home after spending 17 months in a Pyongyang prison.
“No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else,” Trump tweeted. “This is not the Obama Administration that paid 1.8 Billion Dollars for four hostages, or gave five terroist hostages plus, who soon went back to battle, for traitor Sgt. Bergdahl!”
Trump then tweeted a quote praising his hostage negotiation skills: “President Donald J. Trump is the greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States. 20 hostages, many in impossible circumstances, have been released in last two years. No money was paid.”
“Cheif Hostage Negotiator, USA!” the president added, misspelling the word “chief.”
“We did not pay money for our great Otto,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn on Friday. “There was no money paid. There was a fake news report that money was paid. I haven’t paid money for any hostage.
“We don’t pay money for hostages,” he added. “The Otto case was a very unusual case but I just want to let you know no money was paid for Otto.”
Notably, Trump did not deny he agreed to the bill from North Korea.
On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that a $2 million invoice was presented to U.S. State Department envoy Joseph Yun hours before Warmbier was flown out of Pyongyang in a coma on June 13, 2017. The 22-year-old died six days later near his parents’ home in Ohio.
According to the Post, Trump approved payment on the invoice, which was sent to the Treasury Department and remained unpaid through at least 2017.
Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was imprisoned in January 2016 while visiting North Korea as a tourist. According to North Korean state media, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to remove a poster bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel.
In February, after his second summit with Kim Jong Un, Trump said that he did not hold the North Korean authoritarian leader responsible for Warmbier’s death.
“I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump told reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam. “Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places. And bad things happen. I really don’t believe — I don’t believe he knew about it.”
Trump took credit for negotiating the release of Warmbier, who suffered a massive brain injury while in North Korean custody.
The president defended Kim, saying he wasn’t initially aware of Warmbier’s deteriorating condition.
“He felt very badly,” Trump said of Kim. “He knew the case very well. But he knew it later.”
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