During his sycophantic interview, Sean Hannity couldn’t bring himself to ask even one question about why Donald Trump said, “I take the word” of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un that he knew nothing about the treatment of American Otto Warmbier who was released from North Korean custody in a coma.
I think we can all imagine the kind of 24/7 poutrage we’d hear on Fox if President Barack Obama announced he took North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “at his word” that he knew nothing about what happened to Warmbier during the 17 months he was kept in custody in North Korea.
While I was doing research into Warmbier for this post, I came across an in-depth article in GQ that makes a persuasive argument that Warmbier was never beaten or tortured while in custody, that Trump knew that was the case but used the mistreatment story to war monger against Kim Jong-un. That was during the “fire and fury” days, before they “fell in love.”
Still, that’s no excuse for Trump to announce he takes the word of Kim, a brutal, murderous dictator regardless of what happened to Warmbier, over any American investigation. Yet during a press conference following his Hanoi summit with Kim, Trump stuck to the mistreatment story, but ludicrously claimed it had happened without his beloved's knowledge.
This is what Trump said when asked if he had confronted Kim about Warmbier:
TRUMP: I know the Warmbier family very well. I think they’re an incredible family. What happened is horrible. I really believe something horrible happened to him, and I really don’t think the top leadership knew about it.
And when they had to send him home—by the way, I got the prisoners back and the hostages back. The others came back extremely healthy but Otto came back in a condition that was terrible. And I did speak about it, but I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen. It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was—I don’t believe he knew about it.
He felt badly about it. He knew the case very well, but he knew it later. And you’ve got a lot of people, big country, a lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps you have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things. He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.
Does Trump really think that Kim was too busy watching the North Korean version of Fox & Friends to know the circumstances of a comatose American prisoner? While being threatened with nuclear war? Come on!
Apparently, Hannity and his lickspittle colleagues bought it. Media Matters reported that Warmbier was only briefly mentioned on America’s Newsroom, Outnumbered and The Daily Briefing. Fox & Friends didn’t discuss Warmbier at all. However Mickey Bergman, who negotiated Warmbier’s release, discussed the matter on Fox & Friends First shortly after Trump's late night/early morning (U.S. time) press conference. Bergman also believes that Warmbier was probably not mistreated by North Korea. He noted that not knowing what caused Warmbier’s condition was not the same thing as being unaware of it. In other words, completely contradicting Trump’s account. However, Bergman kindly attributed Trump's claims to "a little bit not clearly articulated."
Hannity took the time to say admiringly about Trump’s overall relationship with North Korea, “Hostages were released, remains have come home.” He just left out the subject of Warmbier altogether.
Watch Hannity’s Warmbier-free interview with Trump below, from the February 28, 2019 Hannity. Underneath, Bergman explains why he’s pretty sure Warmbier was not mistreated, from the February 28, 2019 Fox & Friends First.
Psst…there is a reason why Pie is so protective of Trumpy. The masses will learn the truth very, very soon.
2019 will not be a good year for the old hawk. He can forget his coverage of the presidential elections.
1. Hannity’s interview has likely exposed him to being subpoenaed by the SDNY prosecutors, since he’s inadvertently confessed that he and Michael Cohen discussed the Stormy Daniels payoff – specifically who was writing checks and who knew what when. Since this was not something that would have been covered by any attorney/client privilege for Hannity and both he and Cohen were openly discussing the matter, this means that Hannity can be compelled under criminal penalty to answer questions about it. There are times when his smug attitude gets him into a LOT of trouble, and this one is a big one.
2. Regarding Otto Warmbier, there’s been a lot of people using that case for their own political purposes. Trump made a big deal out of it as part of his “I’m Tough on North Korea” stance, but it was clear then and now that he really didn’t care one whit about Warmbier or his family. At that time, the GOP hawks were trying to wave Warmbier around like a human flag, as a way of saying the Dems were too weak to handle the monsters in North Korea. Now we have the Dems trying to wave Warmbier around like a flag, since Trump has once again humiliated himself with an embarrassing public statement. Trump’s new statement just provides further proof of his character and attitude – Warmbier was useful to him as a propaganda tool in 2017, but not so much now.
3. The reality of what happened with Warmbier is discussed at length in the GQ article. The Right Wing certainly played with what were in the end just rumors that he had been physically tortured or beaten, but there is no evidence of anything like that. What we do know is that he was caught pulling a fairly typical college prank – trying to bring back a propaganda poster from a hotel display during his New Year’s trip at the end of 2015. It was a stupid move, but nothing that he thought would have consequences this severe. When the North Koreans caught him at it, they wildly overreacted and used him (much as the pundits in the US would later) as a tool for their own purposes. They repeatedly threatened and intimidated him into signing a bizarre confession and then convicted him in a kangaroo court and sentenced him to 15 years at hard labor. The evidence indicates Warmbier never made it to the hard labor – he instead suffered a catastrophic neurological injury very soon after his sentencing. This could have been caused by some kind of allergic reaction (not botulism) or it could even have been Warmbier attempting suicide – something the GQ article points out is not uncommon when foreigners have been given outrageous and vicious sentences like this. Based on the various bits of information, I would speculate he may have used sleeping pills, but there’s no way to ever know for sure. What is clear is that the North Koreans were now holding an effectively brain-dead prisoner, which would not be helpful for them once the word got out – so they clammed up about his status for over a year, which only fueled the Right Wing fire back in the US about it.
4. The Right Wing talking point from 2016 through to Warmbier’s release and death in 2017 was that President Obama was “too weak” to deal with the North Koreans and that they would never have done this to Otto Warmbier if a strong Republican was in the White House. The evidence we have shows this to be complete nonsense. No matter who the president was, the North Koreans would have behaved in the same way – they would have used Warmbier as a propaganda tool with the thought of trading him later on for some concession by the US. He would have been threatened in the same way and been sentenced to the same outrageous hard labor sentence. And under the same circumstances, if my reading of the facts is correct, the same fate would have occurred for him. The situation was effectively over the moment the brain injury happened – and no matter who the president was, the North Koreans would have fumbled the following year while trying to figure out how to explain what had happened. The only difference we would have seen is that Fox News would have adjusted their narrative to eliminate the attack on President Obama, and would have instead taken the tack that this was just more evidence of the inhumanity of the North Koreans. In the same way that Fox News is now desperately trying to explain away Trump’s discarding of the Warmbier narrative now that he doesn’t really need it anymore.
In the end, the Warmbier story is a sad one, and one that shows us a lot about people’s willingness to believe propaganda – and about the craven behavior of politicians to create propaganda as a way to manipulate those people.
But, to be honest, if Hannity had mentioned anything that did not coincide exactly with the Trump story, he’d be attacked by the Trump/Fox base. I’m starting to believe that the lemmings are the REAL problem. Fox and Trump have found a way to tap into the dumbest, most ignorant and laziest and get them to do their bidding.