On Thursday, President Donald Trump took heat from politicos on both sides of the aisle for his remarks concerning the brutal treatment and eventual death of former University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier in 2017. The president said he believed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un when he told him he was unaware of Warmbier's inhumane treatment during a quick press conference following the failed talks with the cloistered nation.
Taking to Twitter on Friday, President Trump attempted to clarify his remarks, which he said were "misinterpreted" by the media.
"I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family," said Trump. "Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous Administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch."
"Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death," he continued. "Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often!"
Notably, the president did not specify if Kim Jong-un himself was aware of the treatment.
"I really believe something very bad happened to him, and I don't think that the top leadership knew about it," said Trump on Thursday during a post-summit presser. "[Kim Jong-un] felt very badly about it...He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word."
The parents of Otto Warmbier, Fred and Cindy, released a statement on Friday condemning the president's remarks. "We have been respectful during this summit process," they said. "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."
The Warmbiers praised President Trump in 2017 for returning their child home, and were official White House guests to the 2018 State of the Union.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Friday that Trump "agrees with the Warmbier family."
"The president agrees with the Warmbier family and holds North Korea responsible for Otto Warmbier’s death," she said. "He’s said that time and again. This president is responsible for having Otto Warmbier returned to this country and be reunited with his family in his final hours before he passed."
Conway continued: "What the president is talking about [is] that Chairman Kim did not know what happened to Otto at the time of when it happened. And so, of course he holds North Korea responsible. He has deep affection and shares the grief for the Warmbier family, and that will never end, as will not the president agreeing with the Warmbier family that North Korea’s responsible."
"But Chairman Kim did not know – what the president is saying is that there’s no indication Chairman Kim knew what happened [to] Otto Warmbier when it happened. It’s after he was returned here to the United States that we all learned of his sad and frankly unforgivable state," she added.