Trump says no money paid to North Korea to have Otto Warmbier returned

The president tweeted about the case after a Washington Post report that North Korea had issued a $2 million bill to the U.S. for medical care.
Image: Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea
Otto Warmbier is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, on March 16, 2016.Kyodo / Reuters file

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump on Friday denied that his administration had paid any money as part of a deal to get North Korea to return American student Otto Warmbier, whom the regime had detained.

"No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else," Trump tweeted.

Later, Trump told reporters at the White House that, "We did not pay money for our great Otto."

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

"I haven't paid money for any hostage," he said, adding that, "the Otto case is a very unusual case."

The tweet, and comments,came in response to a Washington Post report Thursday that North Korea had issued a $2 million bill to the United States for the medical care of Warmbier, who was returned in an unconscious state.

The regime, The Post reported, demanded that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay the bill before Warmbier would be returned.

State Department official Joseph Yun, who had traveled to North Korea in 2017 to help retrieve Warmbier, was instructed to sign the agreement by Trump and did so, The Post said. The bill was sent to the U.S. Treasury Department and remained unpaid throughout 2017. The Post said it was not clear whether the bill was later paid.

Responding to questions from NBC News about the report, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday, "We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration."

Warmbier, 22, was arrested for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016. The University of Virginia student from Ohio was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

The North Korean government released him in June 2017, and when he returned to U.S. soil, doctors found him to be in a state of unresponsive wakefulness. He died days later; the exact cause of death is still not known.

His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were told he had been in a coma since shortly after being sentenced.

In February, Trump was slammed by politicians on both sides of the aisle after he absolved North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of blame in Warmbier's death. Following a summit with Kim, Trump said at a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, that it "just wasn’t to (Kim's) advantage to let that happen." He added: "He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word."

The president later tweeted that his comments had been misinterpreted and said, "Of course I hold North Korea responsible."