President Donald Trump has scolded the media for “misrepresenting” his words on Otto Warmbier, a US student who died shortly after his release from a North Korean jail, saying that he still holds the reclusive nation responsible.
Trump faced massive backlash after he told a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday that he takes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “on his word” that he had no prior knowledge about the Warmbier ordeal before the US negotiated the student’s return.
“I don’t think that the top leadership knew about it,” Trump said, noting that Kim gained nothing from Warmbier’s death. “I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen. Just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen.”
Mainstream media immediately jumped on the remark, accusing Trump of “absolving“ the “brutal dictator” at the expense of an American citizen.
Warmbier’s parents have also poured fuel on the fire online, blaming the North Korean leader for their son’s death and seemingly reprimanding Trump for his reluctance to do the same.
In a series of tweets on Friday, Trump blamed the media for putting him in the crosshairs.
….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
“I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family,” he tweeted.
“Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death,” he added, calling the Warmbier’s family “a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength.”
“I love Otto and think of him often!” he wrote.
Trump did not point out where exactly the media had got it wrong, and never walked back on his defense of Kim.
Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing a propaganda poster while on a trip to North Korea, but was eventually released after spending 17 months in custody as his health deteriorated dramatically. He slipped into a coma soon after his trial and never woke up. Pyongyang said that his illness was caused by botulism, a form of severe food poisoning, and a sleeping pill he took while in custody.
However, Warmbier’s parents have long doubted Pyongyang’s account of events, with his father Fred saying that the family did not believe “anything” the “terroristic regime” says.
The Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, their second since last year’s meeting in Singapore, did not result in any feasible progress in terms of denuclearization, but has rekindled the weird bromance between the two unlikely pals. Over the past months, Trump has displayed affection for the North Korean leader on numerous occasions, at one point even saying they “fell in love” after Kim had sent him “beautiful letters.”
Trump called Kim a “real leader,” “very smart,” and “a real personality” in his Thursday interview with Fox News’ Shean Hannity. Describing his North Korean counterpart as “pretty mercurial,” Trump immediately clarified that he didn’t “say that necessarily in a bad way.”
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