WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he and first lady Melania Trump hosted family and friends of former hostage Otto Warmbier at the White House last weekend.
The president says 25 people were invited last Saturday to honor Warmbier. His parents say their son was tortured by North Korea after being convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster and imprisoned for months. The 22-year-old suffered severe brain damage and died days after being returned to the U.S. in a vegetative state in 2017.
Trump says previous administrations should have tried to move faster to get him released. The president says that when it comes to getting hostages back home, the U.S. must move very quickly, and in the case of Warmbier, it was too late.
Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier of suburban Cincinnati, were angered by Trump’s comments last spring that he took North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “at his word” that he was unaware of any mistreatment of their son. Trump later tweeted, “Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death.” The tweet made no mention of Kim.
Doctors in Cincinnati said Warmbier had suffered severe brain damage, although they weren’t sure what led to it. North Korea denied mistreating him, saying he fell into a coma that resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill.
A federal judge last year held North Korea liable in Warmbier’s death and awarded more than $500 million in damages in the wrongful death suit filed by his parents. The judgment may be mostly a symbolic victory since North Korea hadn’t responded to any of the allegations in court and there’s no practical mechanism to force it do so.