During a news conference Tuesday from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump implied that former President Barack Obama was partially responsible for the death of American college student Otto Warmbier.
Calling Warmbier’s North Korean death “a total disgrace,” Trump noted that Warmbier “should have been brought home a long time ago.”
“Frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the results would have been a lot different,” Trump said while meeting with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko at the White House.
Warmbier, 22, died Monday in Ohio, just five days after being returned from North Korea. Warmbier was in a vegetative state on his return, after having been detained in the country for 17 months.
Doctors claimed that Warmbier had a significant amount of brain damage, which his family — in a statement — chalked up to “awful torturous mistreatment” while imprisoned in North Korea.
Though the president did not directly reference Obama, his comments seemed to infer that the previous administration should have been able to secure Warmbier’s transfer to the United States much sooner.
Gary Warmbier, Otto’s father, in a newss conference last week, seemed to align his opinions with what the president said on Tuesday.
Gary Warmbier said that the Obama administration purportedly told the family to “take a low profile” while the administration worked to bring their son home.
He said that it was only after Trump intervened that a release for his son was “aggressively pursued.”
In a statement provided to The Washington Post, Gary and his wife, Cindy, said:
“It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20 p.m. It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person. You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio, and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.
We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.
When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.
We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too.”
The North Korean state-run media said in 2016 that Warmbier — a student at the University of Virginia — was arrested for what they referred to as “a hostile act” against the Kim Jong Un regime.
Warmbier was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor for allegedly attempting to remove a propaganda banner from his hotel.
Multiple reports alleged that Warmbier fell into a coma in March 2016, shortly after his sentencing.
David Axelrod on Tuesday responded to Trump’s comments on Twitter, misspelling the young man’s last name and blasting Trump in the same breath.
Axelrod, a former Obama adviser, wrote, “Asked about the death of Otto Wambler [sic], @POTUS can’t resist turning it into a not-so-veiled attack on @BarackObama. It truly IS sad!”
Trump seemed to respond to Axelrod’s sentiments just over an hour later and tweeted, “The U.S. once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
In response to what appeared to be a jab at the Obama administration, the former president issued a statement shortly after Trump’s remarks.
Obama spokesman Ned Price said:
“During the course of the Obama Administration, we had no higher priority than securing the release of Americans detained overseas. Their tireless efforts resulted in the release of at least 10 Americans from North Korean custody during the course of the Obama administration.
It is painful that Mr. Warmbier was not among them, but our efforts on his behalf never ceased, even in the waning days of the administration. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Warmbier’s family and all who had the blessing of knowing him.”