President Donald Trump shocked many around the world on Thursday by declaring that he believes North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is innocent of any knowledge of the mistreatment of American Otto Warmbier that led to his death. That statement smacked of willful blindness to the guilt of a man who routinely orders the execution of officials and makes others transcribe copious notes to be sure that he continues to exercise tight control over the country. The comment rekindled memories of Trump saying that he believed Vladimir Putin on Russian meddling in the election and rejected the views of American intelligence on North Korea in favor of Putin’s assurances on that country’s missile program. It also reminded many of Trump’s continued opposition to hold the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder of a Washington Post journalist in Turkey despite the contrary findings of U.S. intelligence. Update: Warmbier’s parents have issued a scathing rebuke in response to the President’s statement.
Trump said that he discussed the death of Warmbier and said Kim “felt badly about it. He felt very badly. He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
The idea of an American president taking the word of a murderous tyrant like Kim is otherworldly. Yet, Trump did not stop there. He also cleared the top leadership of such knowledge: “I don’t think that the top leadership knew about it. I don’t believe that he (Kim) would have allowed that to happen.”
Why? Kim reportedly killed his own family members in the most savage possible ways. He has starved a nation into utter subsistence living. He has ordering kidnappings, torture and murder. Moreover, since Warmbier is believed to have been in a vegetative state for 14 months, it is preposterous to believe that Kim was unaware of his condition.
Trump’s statement follows a troubling pattern. With Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump has disregarded U.S. intelligence and noted simply that the “crown prince vehemently denies” his involvement.
On North Korean missile development, Trump reportedly disregarded U.S. intelligence findings and told aides “I believe Putin.”
It was a strange contrast for Trump on his return from North Korea. Despite predictions that Trump would accept any deal to maintain his claim of unprecedented success in North Korea, Trump walked away from the deal as a bad one for the United States. It added credibility to his position that was promptly shattered by the perplexing statement on Warmbier. An American student and a U.S. based journalist were killed by two different tyrants who seem to hold more credence with the president than our own intelligence officials.