U.S. President Donald Trump, listens to a question during a news conference following the DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit in Hanoi. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

Trump Says Comments Misinterpreted After Warmbier Family Rebuke

(Bloomberg) -- The parents of Otto Warmbier rejected President Donald Trump’s comments that he took North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “at his word” in denying responsibility for the torture and death of their son.

Hours after the Warmbiers released their statement, Trump responded with a tweet saying that his comments on Otto Warmbier’s death had been “misinterpreted,” though he didn’t explain how.

“We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement released Friday. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

Trump Says Comments Misinterpreted After Warmbier Family Rebuke

Trump later took issue with their rebuke, saying in a series of tweets that “I got Otto out” of imprisonment and “Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death.” He added that Warmbier “will not have died in vain.”

After a meeting in Hanoi Thursday that ended without progress on elimination of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, Trump told reporters that Kim “felt bad” about the imprisonment and torture of Warmbier, who died shortly after returning to the U.S. in a coma after being detained in North Korea for more than 17 months.

“In those prisons and those camps you have a lot of people, and some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things,” Trump said. “But he tells me he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

Trump’s comments in Hanoi provoked immediate criticism from human rights advocates and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

“Look, the blood of Otto Warmbier is on Kim Jong Un’s hands,” Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado said. “He’s responsible for the death. There’s no doubt in my mind about that."

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said the U.S. should “be unflinching and unapologetic in identifying, condemning, and punishing Kim’s human rights atrocities, including the torture and murder of Otto Warmbier.”

Some Members of Congress compared Trump’s reluctance to criticize Kim with his refusal to condemn Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his alleged role in the murder of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year, or to dispute Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that his country interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help Trump win.

“Our intel community is telling us what Putin knew about the election, what MBS knew about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and what Kim Jong Un knew about the brutalization and murder of Otto Warmbier,” said Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. “And I don’t know why the president would want to come to the aid of people who have done these horrible things."

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