- President Donald Trump said he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when he says he wasn’t involved in the death of American Otto Warmbier.
- Republicans in Congress – including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who sought to secure Warmbier’s release – disagreed with his remarks.
- It’s another example of Trump accepting the word of foreign autocrats over US intelligence or members of his own party.
Republican lawmakers are lashing out at President Donald Trump for defending North Korean leader Kim Jung Un’s comments about Otto Warmbier.
Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who fought for Warmbier’s release from North Korea and a member of the senate’s foreign relations committee, said in a speech on the senate floor Thursday that he views the country as an “evil regime.”
“I think it starts at the top,” Portman said. “I want to make clear that we can never forget about Otto. His treatment at the hands of his captors was unforgivable and it tells us a lot about the nature of the regime.”
Warmbier was an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea in 2016.
He apparently suffered a neurological injury, but North Koreans didn’t disclose information about it until shortly before his release, in June 2017. Warmbier was in a comatose state when he was flown to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, and died shortly afterwards.
Kim told Trump he wasn’t involved in Warmbier’s death, Trump said, and he accepted the explanation. Trump has taken a similar approach with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, accepting the word of autocratic foreign leaders regardless of US intelligence assessments, or even members of his own party.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word,” Trump told reporters in Vietnam Thursday. “I don’t think that the top leadership knew about it. … I don’t believe that he (Kim) would have allowed that to happen.”
Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s narrative didn’t sit well with his allies in Congress. In addition to Porter, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said it was wrong to take his word.
“I personally find that statement extremely hard to believe,” Collins told The Hill. “I am surprised that he accepted at face value apparently what happened to the American who was held there.”
Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said it was hard to believe Kim wasn’t involved in Warmbier’s treatment.
“I think it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, was holding one of the very few Americans that had been held over history and that he wasn’t aware of that person or aware of his treatment and his condition,” Stewart told CNN Friday.
Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, also lashed out at Trump over his comments and blamed Kim for their son’s death.
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto,” they said in a statement. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
The comments from Republican lawmakers reflect another break between Trump and members of his own party on matters of foreign policy. Senators also decried his plans to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan and voted to limit his war powers in Yemen.