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Republican Leader in the House Just Brutally Called Out Donald Trump Over His Deference to Kim Jong Un

Alex Wong/Getty Images, SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Shortly before departing Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday, President Donald Trump defended North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un over the treatment and death of 22-year-old American college student Otto Warmbier.

Warmbier was arrested for allegedly stealing a North Korean propaganda poster during a visit to the reclusive nation in 2015. Warmbier was returned to the United States in 2017 while in a coma after being held and tortured in a North Korean labor camp. He died shortly thereafter.


Trump told reporters in Hanoi that he discussed Warmbier with Kim, whom Trump claimed “felt badly about it. He felt badly.”

“I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen.”

Trump then said he believed Kim had no knowledge of the Warmbier drama at the time it unfolded because that is what Kim told him.

"Some really bad things happened to Otto — some really, really bad things," Trump said. "But he tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word."

Trump referred to Kim as his "friend" on Tuesday before the two men began their second ill-fated denuclearization summit.

Trump's defense of Kim has caused a stir throughout the Republican ranks in Congress.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) blasted Trump's trust of Kim at a news conference on Thursday, saying:

“I do not see the leader of North Korea as somebody who’s a friend. We know what happened to Otto. We know what this country has done. I support the president in his effort to denuclearize them, but I do not have a misbelief of who this leader is.”

McCarthy was not alone. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who knows the Warmbier family, said he views North Korea as an "evil regime."

“I think it starts at the top,” Portman said. “And I think we have to acknowledge that as we deal with them," adding that Trump "should verify whatever he hears from [Kim] independently.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he does not “buy it for a minute” that Kim had no involvement in Warmbier's death, suggested that Trump was "probably trying to leave some space to negotiate” after his second nuclear summit with Kim collapsed.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said she was “surprised that [Trump] accepted at face value, apparently, what happened to the American who was held there.”

Should Collins and her Republican brethren really be surprised though? Trump has defended many of the world's most ruthless autocrats since taking office, and people are wondering if Republicans are ever going to do anything about it.

This is nothing new, sadly. Trump has refused to acknowledge Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's role in the brutal murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, who was hacked to death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey last October.

According to former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Trump also rejected his own intelligence agencies' conclusions that Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, executed a massive interference operation in the 2016 American presidential election.

"I don't care," McCabe recalled Trump saying of the intelligence. "I believe Putin."

Trump indicated a similar stance when speaking at a joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, asserting:

"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."

We the people have not forgotten any of this.

Republican pushback is paltry at best - and at worst, complicit.

History will not look kindly upon Trump's coddling of dictators or Republicans' refusal to check him on it.

Just imagine if Barack Obama had pulled a stunt like this.

On Friday morning, Warmbier's parents blasted the president's "excuses" and "lavish praise" for the Kim regime.

"We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto," Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement. "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

No excuses.