WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that the United States did not pay North Korea any money for the health care of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who was jailed there and died after being sent home comatose in 2017.
Trump dismissed a Washington Post story that said the United States accepted a bill from North Korea for $2 million to cover hospice care for Warmbier. He also said he would “easily” defeat Democrat Joe Biden, and criticized the Mueller report and Democrats’ investigations.
“We did not pay money for our Otto,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House on his way to address the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis, repeating his tweeted denial earlier Friday. “We don't pay money for hostages.”
The U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the bill on instructions passed down from Trump, but the U.S. Treasury Department had not paid it as of the end of 2017, the Post reported, citing two people familiar with the situation speaking anonymously.
Asked about Biden, the latest Democrat to join the crowded field of presidential hopefuls, Trump said, “I think we beat him easily.”
Trump rejected Biden’s video declaring his candidacy Thursday that focused on Trump’s statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a clash over the “Unite the Right” rally led by white supremacists to protest removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a park.
Biden criticized Trump’s statement for offering a “moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it” and declared the 2020 presidential election a “battle for the soul of this nation.”
“I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals,” Trump said. “People were there protesting the taking down of the monuments of Robert E. Lee.”
Many of the marchers displayed Nazi and white supremacist insignia and chanted anti-Semitic slogans in the clash with counter protesters. One march supporter pleaded guilty to a hate crime after being convicted of killing a counter protester by ramming his car into a crowd.
Trump also sought to depict Biden, at age 76, as much older than himself, at age 72.
“I am a young, vibrant, man,” Trump said. “I look at Joe, I don't know about him, I don't know.”
Trump again attacked special counsel Robert Mueller and his team as being “Trump haters,” declared he had been totally transparent in dealing with the investigation — despite refusing to answer questions in person and seeking unsuccessfully to block the probe.
He denied he told his then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, despite McGahn’s statements under oath to Mueller’s team. “I never told Don McGann to fire Mueller. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself,” he said. “I had the right to.”
And Trump reiterated his decision to block his administration’s aides from accepting invitations or complying with subpoenas to appear before House committee investigations led by Democrats into the Mueller report and other policies.
Trump claimed he had been more transparent than any other president in dealing with the probe.
“With all of this with all of this transparency, we finished [with] no collusion … no obstruction,” Trump said. “Then I get out the first day, they say ‘Let's do it again.’ And I said, 'That's enough … We have to run a country.’”