The parents of Otto Warmbier, the college student who was imprisoned in North Korea and died of injuries sustained in captivity, spoke out Friday to dispute President Trump’s exoneration of Kim Jong Un in their son’s torture and death.
“We have been respectful during the summit process,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier wrote in a statement. “Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
After it became clear that he would leave Vietnam without reaching a deal to denuclearize North Korean, Trump told reporters Thursday that Kim, whom he has praised lavishly and called a “friend,” had no personal responsibility for Warmbier’s death.
“In those prisons and those camps you have a lot of people, and some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things,” Trump said. “But he tells me he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”
The Ohio student, who visited North Korea on a tour, was convicted of stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel room, presumably as a souvenir, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment at hard labor. After 17 months in prison, he was returned to the U.S. in a coma, and he died in June 2017 without regaining consciousness.
It remains uncertain exactly what caused Warmbier, who was 22, to lapse into a coma. At the time, Trump, who claimed credit for his return, tweeted that he had been “tortured beyond belief.”
In December, a U.S. District Court judge rendered a default judgment against North Korea in a suit brought by his parents, ordering the country to pay them $500 million.
The president’s accommodating statement about the North Korean leader, which echoed the trust he placed in Vladimir Putin’s assurance that Russia had not attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, drew scorn from members of his own party.
“I personally find that statement extremely hard to believe,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters.
“I want to make clear that we can never forget about Otto,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Friday on the Senate floor. “His treatment at the hands of his captors was unforgivable, and it tells us a lot about the nature of the regime. We can’t be naive about what they did to Otto, about the brutal nature of the regime that would do this to an American citizen.”
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., scoffed at Trump’s remarks on Kim.
“It’s strange, and I don’t know, something is wrong that Kim Jong Un, a proven thug, that the president chooses to believe,” Pelosi told reporters.
After outrage grew over Trump’s remarks, Kellyanne Conway tried to clarify what she said the president really meant to say in North Korea.
"He stands with the Warmbier family and shares in their grief, and like them holds the North Korean government responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier," Conway, a counselor to the president, told SiriusXM Patriot host David Webb during a Friday interview at CPAC. "He was merely saying that Chairman Kim said that he, Kim, did not know what was happening to Otto as it was happening, meaning put in the coma."
The president himself, perhaps sensing that his comments had been construed negatively, then sought to put the self-inflicted controversy to rest.
....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
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