Otto Warmbier's parents hire lobbyists to push for sanctions on North Korea

Otto Warmbier's parents hire lobbyists to push for sanctions on North Korea
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The parents of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American who died after being held prisoner in North Korea, hired lobbyists to push for increased U.S. sanctions on the country days before the Trump administration imposed them.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier hired McGuireWoods Consulting, the lobbying arm of law firm McGuireWoods, on Nov. 10 in an effort to “seek economic sanctions and state sponsor of terror designation against North Korea.”

On Nov. 21, the Trump administration announced it would be moving to punish various North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies with sanctions, an effort to thwart the rogue nation’s nuclear weapons development program.

A day earlier, the Trump administration added North Korea back to the list of state sponsors of terror, joining Syria, Iran and Sudan. It had been taken off the list during the George W. Bush administration in 2008.

"For much too long, North Korea has been allowed to abuse the international financial system to facilitate funding for its nuclear weapons and missile programs," Trump said last month. "Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now."

The Treasury Department, the White House, the State Department and McGuireWoods did not answer questions about whether meetings took place between lobbyists and government officials on the matter.

“We have retained Richard Cullen and McGuireWoods to advise and counsel us in connection with the death of our son Otto at the hands of North Korea," Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement released to The Hill from the firm. 

Cullen, a senior partner at McGuireWoods, is the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and a former Virginia attorney general.

Last year, Otto Warmbier, then a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being convicted of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel.

After more than a year in a North Korean prison, Otto Warmbier was returned to the United States in a comatose state brought about, North Koreans said, by botulism. Brain scans, however, indicated that he had suffered severe damage to his brain as a result of a lack of oxygen.

His father, Fred Warmbier, said in a press conference earlier this year that the Obama administration should have done more to get his son released.

Prior to the newest sanctions, Trump signed an executive order last month expanding the Treasury Department’s ability to slap sanctions on companies, banks or individuals that work with North Korea.

“The question is, do I think the past administration could have done more?” the elder Warmbier said. “I think the results speak for themselves.”

Without elaborating, Trump said the “results would have been different” if he were in the Oval Office at the time of Otto Warmbier’s arrest.

A former Obama administration spokesman defended their attempts to secure Otto Warmbier's release, saying in a statement that there was “no higher priority [for the Obama administration] than securing the release of Americans detained overseas.”

“Their tireless efforts resulted in the release of at least 10 Americans from North Korean custody during the course of the Obama administration,” said Ned Price. “It is painful that Mr. Warmbier was not among them, but our efforts on his behalf never ceased, even in the waning days of the administration. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Warmbier’s family and all who had the blessing of knowing him.”

Last week, the White House said it is mulling even more sanctions following the North Korean launch test of a long-range missile that experts say would be able to reach the continental United States, even as far as Washington D.C.