The U.S. president came under criticism by fellow Republicans as they are seeking to distance themselves from his comment on defending North Korea leader Kim Jong Un when asked about American student Otto Warmbier’s death.
At the end of the U.S.-North Korea Summit, President Donald Trump said during Thursday’s press conference that he doesn’t believe “top leadership” in North Korea had a role in Warmbier’s death, as IJR Blue noted.
In 2015, while he was on a trip to North Korea, Warmbier was captured by officials and accused of being a spy. After spending 17 months there, he was returned to the U.S. in a coma and died days later.
When asked about the incident by a reporter, President Trump claimed it was a “horrible” situation but wasn’t in Kim’s “advantage to allow that to happen.”
“He felt badly about it,” the president said about Kim.
“Some really bad things happened to Otto, some really really bad things but he tells me he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
Watch the video below:
Pres. Trump says Kim Jong Un ‘felt badly’ about Otto Warmbier, but that he doesn’t believe the North Korean leader knew about the American college student’s torture.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 28, 2019
The president’s defense of Kim on the situation of Warmbier’s death drew backlash from the Republican Party.
Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley indirectly called out President Trump’s remark about the American student.
“Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Our hearts are with the Warmbier family for their strength and courage,” she added. “We will never forget Otto.”
Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime. Our hearts are with the Warmbier family for their strength and courage. We will never forget Otto. ❤️🇺🇸
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 28, 2019
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) chimed in on his disbelief for the president standing in defense of Kim, saying the imprisonment and death were of “heinous crimes at the hands of the brutal Kim Jong Un regime,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“We must never forget this regime’s despicable human rights record, even as we work to denuclearize the country,” Wenstrup added.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was one of the officials who attended Warmbier’s memorial service and has not forgotten about what had happened.
“We must remember Otto, and we should never let North Korea off the hook for what they did to him,” Portman said.
#breaking Trump says he does not believe Kim Jong Un would have knowingly condoned any abuse or torture of American prisoner Otto Warmbier, who had severe brain damage & died after being flown back to US: “Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places and bad things happen.” pic.twitter.com/rT9cEhhebT
— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) February 28, 2019
The former Republican senator and now-CNN political analysis, Rick Santorum, blasted the president’s “reprehensible” comments.
“He gave cover, as you said, to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier,” Santorum said on CNN. “And again, I don’t understand why the president does this. I am disappointed, to say the least, that he did it.”
Watch the video below:
“This is reprehensible what he just did. He gave cover… to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier,” @RickSantorum says about Pres. Trump saying he believes Kim Jong Un’s claim he wasn't aware of the American student’s condition https://t.co/2JAkMvsnCI pic.twitter.com/kdGjff7N7r
— CNN (@CNN) February 28, 2019
While Republicans distanced themselves from the president’s comments, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the North Korean leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin “thugs,” and found it “strange” the president chose to believe Kim.
Watch the video below:
Nancy Pelosi on Trump believing Kim Jong Un not knowing anything about Otto Warmbier's death: "It's strange. I don't know. There is something wrong with Putin, Kim Jong Un — in my view, thugs — that the president chooses to believe." Via CBS pic.twitter.com/wRmwpJutkG
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 28, 2019
When President Trump’s Summit in Vietnam ended short and with no deal on denuclearization, it brought criticism that he had failed in his discussions with Kim, even though the president made it clear he’s optimistic about the long term — but this comment about the American student has drawn bipartisan criticism from President Trump’s press conference.