President Donald J. Trump’s love for brutal dictators notwithstanding, North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un has the blood of American college student Otto Warmbier of Cincinnati on his hands. The administration must hold Kim responsible.
Trump’s willingness to give the dictator a pass on the death of the 22-year-old University of Virginia student, who succumbed to injuries from months of torture in North Korea, should be the last straw – even for the Republican president’s most ardent supporters.
Unfortunately, he has become the political Teflon Don for millions of Americans who voted for him in 2016.
Indeed, had former Democratic President Barack Obama taken the same unconscionable stand as Trump with regard to Kim’s involvement in Warm-bier’s death, Republicans on Capitol Hill would have condemned him as traitor and have demanded his resignation.
The hypocrisy of the Republican Party when it comes to Trump is palpable.
Here’s what the president said Thursday when a reporter wondered if he and Kim had discussed Otto Warmbier and whether he had asked the North Korean leader to take responsibility for what happened to the young American:
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.” To repeat: “ ... I will take him at his word.”
Does Trump have no shame?
The president and the North Korean dictator met last week in Vietnam to discuss U.S.-North Korea relations against the backdrop of the communist nation’s development of nuclear weapons. The summit ended abruptly with no progress on denuclearization and the lifting of economic sanctions.
The leaders gave differing accounts of why the talks failed, but the bottom line is that Trump came away empty handed. That is why his embrace of Kim is all the more egregious.
The president’s unwillingness to blame Kim for Warmbier’s death ignited a firestorm and was even denounced by some Republicans.
But it’s the reaction of the victim’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, that is most telling. It should be recalled that they had publicly expressed their appreciation of Trump last year for facilitating the return of their son from North Korea.
The parents were guests at Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address.
In securing the release of the American student and a couple of other Americans in captivity in North Korea, Trump harshly criticized his predecessor, Obama, for not doing enough on their behalf.
But by giving Kim a pass, Trump has shown his true colors.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier did not mince words in reacting to the president’s statement about the North Korean strongman.
“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.”
In the midst of the widespread condemnation of his comment, Trump said Friday that he was being misinterpreted.
“Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death,” he said.
Note that the president did not say he holds Kim responsible, and neither did he use the word torture to describe what the young American student experienced.
Sleep deprivation is “mistreatment,” to use Trump’s word.
Otto Warmbier’s condition when he returned to the U.S. after 17 months of captivity was described by his father, Fred, as his son making an “involuntary, inhumane sound,” staring blankly into space and jerking violently.
Fred Warmbier also told Fox News that Otto was blind and deaf with his head shaved.
Doctors in Cincinnati said he suffered severe brain damage but were unable to pinpoint a cause.
North Korea denied mistreating the college student, who was detained for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster as he prepared to end a visit to the country with a tour group.
The North Koreans said he fell into a coma that resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill.
But U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, who presided over a wrongful- death suit filed by Warmbier’s parents, harshly condemned North Korea for “barbaric mistreatment” of the American student.
Judge Howell has ordered North Korea to pay more than $500 million to the parents.
It is a safe bet that Trump has not demanded payment of the $500 million before economic sanctions are lifted.