Trump says his remarks on Warmbier were 'misinterpreted'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE on Friday sought to clean up his widely criticized claim that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not know about the treatment of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, saying “I hold North Korea responsible” for Warmbier’s “mistreatment and death.”

In a pair of tweets, Trump claimed that his initial comments at a Thursday news conference following his failed nuclear summit with Kim were “misinterpreted.”

Trump’s new comments, however, do not directly address whether he believes Kim bears responsibility for the death of Warmbier, who died in 2017 shortly after being released from a 17-month stint in a North Korean prison. He had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after allegedly stealing a propaganda poster while on a tour of Pyongyang in January 2016.

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked about Warmbier during his post-summit news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, Trump said he took Kim at his word that the North Korean leader was unaware of Warmbier’s treatment in prison.

“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."

“He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word,” the president added.

Those comments triggered an outcry from leaders in both political parties who accused Trump of coddling a ruthless dictator. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Schumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey MORE (D-N.Y.) on Friday called on the president to apologize to Warmbier’s parents.

GOP Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE, who represents Warmbier’s home state of Ohio, warned the president not to be “naive” about the “brutal nature” of the North Korean regime in a speech on the Senate floor.

Trump’s tweets came hours after Fred and Cindy Warmbier, parents of the late University of Virginia student, released a statement pinning their son’s death on Kim and indirectly criticizing the president.

“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,” they said. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

The talks in Vietnam — Trump and Kim's second in as many years — ended abruptly Thursday with the two sides unable to reach an agreement on how to proceed with Korean denuclearization. Trump said he walked away from the negotiations because Pyongyang demanded relief from all sanctions, a position the North Koreans deny.