The parents of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died after being imprisoned by the North Korean regime, responded for the first time Friday to President Trump's comments siding with dictator Kim Jong Un on the death of their son.
In Vietnam, Mr. Trump, who said he mourned the student's death last year and invited his parents to his State of the Union address, told reporters Kim "tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word." Warmbier died last year shortly after he was released in a coma.
"We have been respectful during this summit process," Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said in a statement. "Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."
On Fox News, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said the president agrees with the Warmbier family, but the president doesn't think Kim knew.
"The president agrees with the Warmbier family and holds North Korea responsible," Conway said, adding, "What the president is talking about is Chairman Kim did not know what happened to Otto at the time when it happened."
The president has consistently praised Kim in the last year, even calling him his "friend." In an interview with Sean Hannity this week, Mr. Trump said he sees no reason not to like the dictator despite his disastrous record on human rights.
"He likes me. I like him," Mr. Trump told Hannity. "Some people say, oh, you shouldn't like him. I said, why shouldn't I like him? I like him. We get along great."
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley offered a passive-voice tweet commenting on Warmbier's death after Mr. Trump's comments in Vietnam.
The president's tune on Kim and on the North Korean regime related to Warmbier has changed significantly since last year. In his 2018 State of the Union address, with the Warmbier parents in the audience, Mr. Trump eviscerated Kim's regime and blamed it for the student's death.
"Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia," Mr. Trump said in his address. "On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea. At its conclusion, this wonderful young woman was arrested and charged with crimes against the state. After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June — horribly injured and on the verge of death. He passed away just days after his return."
"Otto's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are with us tonight — along with Otto's brother and sister, Austin and Greta. You are powerful witnesses to the menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all. Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto's memory with American resolve."
Mr. Trump attempted to clarify his comments on Friday, claiming he was misinterpreted, but he still failed to place any blame on Kim, or even mention the dictator.