Donald Trump has touted, on Twitter and elsewhere, the 2017 release of American Otto Warmbier, who was held as a prisoner and reportedly tortured by the North Korean government for 17 months, as one of his greatest accomplishments. But a stunning new report reveals that the Trump administration may have secured Warmbier’s release not through a brilliant feat of diplomacy, but simply by paying for it.
When the Trump administration was negotiating for Warmbier’s release in June of 2017, according to The Washington Post report published Thursday morning, North Korea submitted what officials there said was a “hospital bill” for Warmbier’s care while in custody — a bill totaling $2 million.
The Post described North Korea’s demand that the “bill” be paid before it would release Warmbier as “extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.” But according to the report, Trump gave instructions to a United States envoy to sign off on the $2 million invoice, promising to pay the full amount.
Warmbier, then 22-years-old, was returned to the United States but arrived in a vegetative state with his body bearing signs that he had been physically abused in custody.
“He returned destroyed in a state of unresponsive wakefulness with a devastating brain injury; he also had a large scar on his left foot and traumatic dental injuries,” according to a lawsuit filed by Warmbier’s parents, cited by Voice of America News.
As recently as last October, according to CNN, Trump boasted that he “paid nothing” for the release of American captives held in North Korea.
In the lawsuit, the Warmbiers allege that the son’s severe injuries were the result of physical torture by his North Korean captors. But when told of the $2 million promised payment, parent Fred Warmbier told The Post that it sounded like the Trump administration paid a “ransom” for his son’s release and that he was never informed that North Korea had submitted the “hospital bill.”
On June 18, 2017, Otto Warmbier died as a result of the injuries that he somehow sustained in captivity. North Korean officials claimed that the American student had suffered from a case of botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning, but when Warmbier was examined by doctors in the United States, no signs of botulism were detected, according to an investigation of Warmbier’s ordeal by GQ Magazine.
Warmbier was arrested at a Pyongyang, North Korea, airport in January of 2016, accused of stealing a North Korean propaganda poster from the hotel where he had been staying. He somehow fell into a coma shortly after his arrest and remained unconscious for the final 15 months of his captivity, according to The Post.