President Donald Trump is attempting to walk back his comments defending North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the death of imprisoned American student Otto Warmbier, according to The Hill. The president had previously said he believed the North Korean dictator when he claimed he had no knowledge of Warmbier’s condition.
“He tells me he didn’t know about it, and I take him at his word,” the president said at a press conference following an aborted nuclear weapons summit with Kim in Vietnam.
Those remarks led to a massive outcry, to the point where not only political leaders from both sides of the aisle took issue with it, Warmbier’s family also took the extraordinary step of releasing a statement calling out the North Korean dictator, and indirectly, the president.
Trump then claimed in a pair of tweets that he had been “misinterpreted” in his earlier comments, and simultaneously took credit for getting Warmbier released.
“I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family,” Trump tweeted. “Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous Administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch.”
“Of course I hold North Korea responsible,” he added, and then continued with his second tweet.
....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
However, many observers were quick to note that the president’s comments carefully avoided actually contradicting his earlier claim, that he doesn’t believe Kim Jong Un personally knew about the young man’s treatment, or whether he holds Kim personally responsible.
Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean prison for stealing a propaganda poster while traveling in the tightly-controlled communist state was released after 17 months and sent back to the U.S. However, during the time he was held captive, he suffered some kind of injury or other malady that left him in a vegetative state.
While the North Koreans claim that an attack of botulism was the cause of Warmbier’s brain damage, U.S. doctors, upon examining him, posited that a cardiac arrest was the likely cause of his vegetative state and subsequent death. Whatever the cause, Sen. Rob Portman of Warmbier’s home state of Ohio pointed out that the North Koreans neglected to tell the U.S. about Warmbier’s health condition during 15 months of negotiations for his release.
Following Trump’s initial comments seeming to exonerate Kim Jong Un, Warmbier’s parents released a statement that said that Kim “and his evil regime” are responsible for the death of their son, and that they also hold him responsible for “unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity.”
“No excuses or lavish praise can change that,” they added, in an apparent swipe at Trump.