“Otto Warmbier is a very special person, his parents are good friends of mine,” Trump told reporters from Singapore after he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed an agreement committing to “complete denuclearization.” “I think without Otto this would not have happened.”
He called Warmbier’s death “brutal,” but noted that “a lot of people started to focus on what was going on including North Korea.”
Trump first ignored a question about whether he and Kim discussed Warmbier as the two leaders signed the agreement, leading many on Twitter to point out that the reclusive regime’s human rights violations have taken a back seat during the negotiations.
Trump directed the State Department to secure Warmbier’s release last year. Warmbier was flown back to the U.S. in a state described by doctors as one of “unresponsive wakefulness,” unable to speak, see or react to verbal commands. He died days later.
The Wyoming, Ohio, native was in North Korea with a tour group when he was detained for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 after a tear-filled confession on camera in a North Korean courtroom.
Intelligence reports suggested Warmbier had been beaten so badly while in custody that there were fears he had died, a U.S. intelligence official told The New York Times.