The Jury Talks Back


Clean Hands: President Trump Gives Kim Jong Un A Pass In The Death Of Otto Warmbier

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 3:06 pm

[guest post by Dana]

While still in Vietnam, President Trump was asked if he had discussed college student Otto Warmbier with Kim Jong Un. The 22-year old had been detained in North Korea after being convicted for stealing a propaganda poster. He was released after a year, only to return home in a comatose state and dying shortly thereafter.

Talking in Vietnam on Thursday about Kim’s role in the fate of Warmbier, who died in June 2017, Trump said: “He felt badly about it. He felt very badly.” He added that the two leaders had discussed Warmbier’s death privately. He added: “He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”

Moreover, claiming that he didn’t believe leadership knew about it, he claimed that it would not have been in Kim’s interest to so severely wound an American:

…Trump told reporters he believed Kim’s denial in part because it would not be in Kim’s interest for Warmbier to wind up in a coma.

“I don’t think that the top leadership knew about it,” Trump said. “I don’t believe that he (Kim) would have allowed that to happen.”

Earlier in 2017, President Trump expressed his belief that Warmbier was “tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”

As a reminder, during the summit in Hanoi, the president had referred to the murderous leader as a “friend”.

Responding to the president’s belief that Kim Jong Un was unaware of Warmbier, his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier rebuked Trump, saying:

We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. 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.

As a result of the backlash for Trump’s comments, Kellyanne Conway did cleanup duty on Fox News earlier today:

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway clarified in an interview Friday on Fox News, however, that the president agrees with the family and holds North Korea “responsible.” She said Trump was only saying there’s no indication Kim knew what happened at the time.

“Of course he holds North Korea responsible. He has deep affection and shares the grief of the Warmbier family. That will never end,” she said.

Jerry Dunleavy points out that when compared with the testimony given by expert witnesses at the evidentiary hearing, Trump’s belief that Kim Jong Un was not aware of Otto Warmbier doesn’t hold up:

Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and David Hawk, a consultant for the Committee on North Korean Human Rights who teaches at the University of South Florida, both testified that the North Korean government was responsible for the torture and death of Otto.

Sung-Yoon Lee said: “North Korea had been planning to conduct various provocative weapons tests all along, and to have a young American detainee would have provided North Korea not only with an added layer of security, a security blanket, but have a useful pawn with which North Korea could compel the U.S.” He added that “hostage-taking is a very well-honed craft and tool of North Korea’s diplomacy.”

Lee said Otto’s detention was a strategic decision by the North Korean government: “I see calculated provocation, hostage taking as North Korea is preparing for a major provocation like its first nuclear test in three years, its first long-range missile test in three years.”

Lee also agreed with the judge’s statement that “North Korea seized and maintained custody of Otto in order to further its policy goals.” He said that Otto was seized during a presidential election year in the United States and at a time when North Korea hadn’t tested a nuclear weapon in three years.

Yet “just four days after detaining Otto Warmbier, North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Jan. 6, which is two days shy of Kim Jong Un’s birthday.” And the “show trial and confession” of Otto was “very much a staple mode of operation in the North Korean system.”

Lee said: “Kim Jong Un is the Supreme Leader… In Korean culture, Korean history, the man on top has always held supreme power, the Korean kings of the past.” North Korea was “the most advanced, most perfected totalitarian state in world history” and had a unique ability “to coerce, to control, to terrorize people, and to invade their private realm.”

David Hawk spoke about the “systemic and regularized torture in the initial places of detention and interrogation” in North Korea. He was clearly being interrogated, and they wanted a confession from him. And he was obviously in his testimony scared for his life if he didn’t confess to hostile acts taken on behalf of the U.S. government.”


Lee told the Washington Examiner: “The notion that Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of the nation with the most rigidly vertical power hierarchy in history, was uninformed of the hostage-taking, torture, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier … is ludicrous.”

He added that Trump’s comments “challenge the letter and spirit of the landmark ruling by a federal judge in the case of Warmbiers vs DPRK” and “unwittingly empower the criminal regime of Kim Jong Un.”

This would be consistent, given President Trump’s admiration for strongmen. (See: Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Xi Jinping, among others.)

As I was finishing this post, I checked once more to see if the President had tweeted about the matter, given the backlash he has faced. Sure enough:



Interestingly, he doesn’t specifically call out Kim Jong Un as being responsible. Instead, he sticks with “North Korea,” which essentially still gives Kim Jong Un a pass.



  1. Weak people are only responsible when good things happen. Bad things are never their fault.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/1/2019 @ 3:32 pm

  2. Leaders of poor character give others a pass when it serves their purpose. After all, why should they care if other people have poor character, too?

    Comment by DRJ — 3/1/2019 @ 3:36 pm

  3. I also think that Trump, as someone whose only criterion for another human being is whether they praise Trump, thinks everyone else is just like him. Thus, he thinks, all he has to do is praise Kim, and Kim will be putty in his hands, just like Trump is putty in the hands of anyone who praises him.

    Truly one of the dumbest humans in public life, anywhere.

    Comment by Patterico — 3/3/2019 @ 11:35 am

  4. If Trump can’t see through flattery, then he is dumb. His choices show he is willing to sell his soul for money and celebrity, so it is a good bet he would sell out if it helped him.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/3/2019 @ 3:52 pm

  5. But I still think that if Trump will stick with conservative ideas (even if he doesn’t understand or believe in them), then he can be successful. Conservative ideas work even if the messenger doesn’t understand why.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/3/2019 @ 8:28 pm

  6. Interesting perspective. The problem is that he doesn’t always stick with them — see: tariffs, as one example — and then his non-conservative position causes doltish self-styled “conservatives” to adopt his position as the ostensibly conservative one.

    Comment by Patterico — 3/4/2019 @ 8:18 am

  7. True, but that is my most optimistic view now that he is President. No GOP President is always conservative but at least some of them had conservative instincts to rely on. Trump relies on himself and only cares about what he thinks will make him popular. My hope is that he will think acting like a conservative most of the time is the way to be popular.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/4/2019 @ 2:25 pm

  8. What mystifies me is why so many people think Trump is the only Republican willing to fight. I get why they think the Bushes aren’t fighters but Cruz is a fighter. Even Rubio stood up for his beliefs. Trump just talks trash. IMO that isn’t what real fighters do.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/4/2019 @ 5:58 pm

  9. And what irritates me is that Trump’s words have no meaning. He says he takes Kim at his word that he didn’t know about/hurt Otto Warmbier and in TrumpWorld, that means Kim said that but Trump didn’t believe him. Words have no meaning anymore.

    Why bother to be adults if we have given up on words, principles, and reason? Let’s all just do whatever we want.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/4/2019 @ 6:13 pm

  10. I an posting an off-topic comment on a topic that is important to me. Apologize for doing this. I also apologize for not including links but I don’t want this comment to be filtered. I will gladly provide links if anyone is interested.

    Yesterday there was a report from Denmark that there is no link between MMR vaccines and autism. This is good news but we in America need to learn the right lesson from this report.

    First, Denmark has had newborn screening for diseases since at least 1982, and immune screening since at least 1995. Immune compromised individuals should not be vaccinated so I assume there were no immune compromised individuals vaccinated in the Denmark report/study. In addition, Denmark does not have compulsory vaccinations — it is voluntary — Denmark does studies like this to inform parents to help them decide.

    IMO the danger of vaccinations is to the immune compromised and I also think some are harmed or have their autism worsened by vaccines that trigger unpredictable adverse reactions. But the US did not include immune disorders in its newborn screening until recently. Wisconsin and Massachusetts were the first states in 2008, and currently there are 31 states that screen for immune disorders.

    One of the worst immune disorders, SCID aka the Bubble Boy Syndrome, is estimated to occur in 1 out of every 40,000 to 100,000 births. But in the first two states that tested (Wisconsin and Massachusetts) the first year showed SCID occurred in 1 in every 15,000 births and clinical immune dysfunction in 1 in every 3,000 births. That is a lot of sick babies who would normally have been vaccinated, probably aggressively, when they should never have been vaccinated at all. Multiply that by 50 states for decades and think about how that might impact autism in America.

    We need to expand newborn screening for immune problems to all states and territories, use care in vaccinating them, and explore titer testing for them and other people with serious diseases.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/6/2019 @ 9:32 am

  11. Vaccines save lives. They are wonderful medical advances that protect everyone. We need to make sure we are smart in how we use them, like Denmark, and that we don’t try to make rules that are easy to apply but hurt people unnecessarily.

    Comment by DRJ — 3/6/2019 @ 9:36 am

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