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.
Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize. The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2019
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.
Then tell that to the president and ask that he retracts his statement and apologize to the Warmbier family. That is the least acceptable thing to do.
— Morgan (@mldimal) March 1, 2019
It was his turn too Jump off the GOP bandwagon.. We'll be back in 24 hrs to pick you up….Be Best…
— DennisMartin (@DennisM46416200) March 1, 2019
I wish more republicans would step up against this. Trump keeps siding with dictators and I can’t believe republicans can just sit there! This has to stop.
— carol williams (@carolswilliams_) March 1, 2019
Some "break," the temporary roar of a mouse.
— GullyFoyle (@GullyFoylez) March 1, 2019
Can not imagine what the family is going through. To hear this president dismissing the truth is sickening. Just heartless.
— ‘HOPE’ (@WomnForgngChnge) March 1, 2019
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.