Trump says Kim not responsible for Otto Warmbier’s death: ‘I will take him at his word’

President Trump on Thursday said he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was not responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was detained in the authoritarian state and died upon returning to the U.S.

“He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word,” Trump said at a news conference following a summit with Kim in Vietnam, which produced no agreement with North Korea.

{mosads}Trump previously took credit for the June 2017 release of Warmbier and used his death to pressure Kim over human rights, saying the 22-year-old Ohio native was “tortured beyond belief.”

But Trump later adopted a more friendly tone with the North Korean leader in pursuit of a nuclear agreement, and human rights have not been a major theme at their two summit meetings.

The president said he spoke to Kim about Warmbier, but asserted he did not believe the leader would have permitted the detainee to be mistreated because it “just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen.”

“He felt badly about it. I did speak to him. He felt very badly,” Trump said of Kim.

Trump suggested that it is not reasonable for Kim to be held responsible for what happens inside North Korea’s vast network of prison camps, where human rights groups say people are kept in unsanitary quarters and routinely subject to torture.

“He knew the case very well. But he knew it later,” Trump said of Kim. “And, you know, you’ve got a lot of people. Big country. Lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps, you have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. Some really bad things.”

Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster during a January 2016 visit to Pyongyang.

He died roughly 17 months later after he was sent back to the U.S. in a coma. Warmbier’s parents have previously praised Trump for securing their son’s release and said that he was tortured by North Koreans.

Trump’s response to the Warmbier question was reminiscent of widely panned comments he made during a news conference last summer with Vladimir Putin, in which he said he took the Russian president at his word that he did not direct Moscow’s election interference efforts in 2016.

The president’s comments were at odds with the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Putin had a hand in the initiative.

Tags Donald Trump North Korea Otto Warmbier death Trump-Kim summit

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