WASHINGTON — In a sharp break from President Donald Trump’s comments Thursday about Otto Warmbier of Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman said the United States “should never let North Korea off the hook” for Warmbier’s death in 2017 after spending nearly two years in a North Korean prison.
At a news conference in Hanoi, Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told him during the summit that “he felt badly” about Warmbier’s death. Trump said Kim “tells me he didn’t know about” Warmbier’s deteriorating health during his time in prison.
“I know the Warmbier family very well,” Trump said. “I think they’re an incredible family. What happened is horrible. I really believe something very bad happened to him, and I don’t think that the top leadership knew about it.”
Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement that “we must remember Otto, and we should never let North Korea off the hook for what they did to him.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said that North Korea “murdered” Wambier and that the president “has a responsbility to make sure they face the consequences.”
Warmbier, who was from the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming, was seized by North Korean officials who subjected him to harsh treatment. North Korea returned Warmbier to the United States in the summer of 2017 and he died shortly thereafter in a Cincinnati hospital.
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff called Trump’s remark “detestable, and hearkens back to Trump’s duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators.”