President Trump said at a press conference in Hanoi today that he believes Kim Jong-un when the dictator said he didn’t know about the torture and imprisonment of slain American hostage Otto Warmbier.
Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who visited the communist regime as part of a tour group, was seized by North Korean officials on Jan. 2, 2016, before his flight was supposed to take off from Pyongyang. He was paraded before cameras the next month for a tearful “confession,” admitting he took down a propaganda banner that was hanging in the hall of his hotel.
When he was returned home to Ohio on June 13, 2017, Otto was in a coma. He died six days later.
The Warmbier family won a $501 million wrongful death judgment against the Kim regime in December. Court documents said the family climbed the steps of the plane upon Otto’s return and immediately heard “loud inhuman sounds,” and his condition was “horrible and unrecognizable” as Otto was “jerking violently” and “howling.”
“He wore a diaper and had a ‘feeding tube’ and a ‘shaved head,’ ‘his arms . . . curled and mangled,’ ‘his eyes . . .bulging out,’ and it ‘almost appeared that he had chewed a hole through his bottom lip.’ His once ‘perfectly straight’ teeth were misaligned,'” the court document continued, adding that his sister Greta “ran off the plane screaming.” Otto Warmbier also had a large scar on his left foot that wasn’t there before, attributed to electric shock torture. A neurologist concluded that Otto’s brain damage most likely resulted from the loss of blood flow to the brain for five to 20 minutes.
“You’ve talked about Kim Jong-un being ‘my friend,’ you’ve called him on Twitter, you say you have a ‘great’ relationship — have you in Singapore or here confronted Kim Jong-un about Otto Warmbier’s death, asked him to take responsibility, and what did he say to you, and why do you call him your friend?” Washington Post reporter David Nakamura asked Trump.
“I have talked about it, and I really don’t think it was in his interest at all. I know the Warmbier family very well; I think they’re an incredible family. What happened is horrible. I really believe something very bad happened to him and I don’t think that the top leadership knew about it and when they had to send him home… Otto came back in shape that was not even to be talked about. I find it — I thought it was horrible,” Trump replied.
“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen — it just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen,” Trump said of Kim. “Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was — I don’t believe he knew about it.”
“He felt badly about it… he knew the case very well but he knew it later,” the president continued. “You got a lot of people, big country, and in those prisons and those camps you’ve got a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. Some really, really bad things. But he tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
The White House had planned a “signing ceremony” today to end the summit, but that was canceled and Trump left Vietnam ahead of schedule.