President Donald Trump faced a backlash on Thursday from lawmakers from across the political spectrum after he said he did not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was responsible for the death of American student Otto Warmbier.
"We must remember Otto, and we should never let North Korea off the hook for what they did to him," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who represents the Warmbier family's home state, said in a statement a few hours after Trump completed his second summit with Kim in Vietnam.
Trump said on Thursday at a press conference in Hanoi at the conclusion of the summit that he did not hold Kim responsible for Warmbier's death.
"I don't believe he knew about it," Trump said of Kim. "He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word."
Trump's comments are a reversal from his past statements. In his 2018 State of the Union address, he criticized the North Korea's "depraved character" and blamed the country's "dictatorship" for Warmbier's injuries and eventual death.
Warmbier, 22, was arrested for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016 andlater sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He suffered horrific injuriesand died shortly after being released from 17 months of detention. The cause of death remains unknown, as does how he became injured.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday called the president's remarks "strange."
"There's something wrong with Putin, Kim Jong Un — in my view, thugs — that the president chooses to believe," she said.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called Trump's remarks an "obvious lie."
"Otto Warmbier's bogus arrest and brutal murder was an international incident," Warner said. "Of course Kim knew about it. Apparently, the President of the United States is the only one who believes this obvious lie."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., accused Trump of flinching in front of Kim regarding the student's death.
"No American president has ever cowered in front of dictators like@realDonaldTrump," he said in a tweet.
Trump abruptly ended his summit with Kim without any concessions on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Some lawmakers approved of the move, hoping it would keep the door open for more diplomacy and prevent an unsatisfactory deal.
"Walking away from the summit was better than making a bad deal. It's also the result of a poorly planned strategy," Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, tweeted on Thursday. "But accepting Kim's denial of involvement in Warmbier's death? Detestable, and harkens back to Trump's duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators."
"Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime," Nikki Haley, Trump's former U.N. ambassador, tweeted on Thursday.