Donald Trump serves many roles as president of the United States — chief executive, chief administrator, chief diplomat — but when he learned of the dire medical condition of North Korean prisoner and American college student Otto Warmbier, he adopted the role of a father and fought for Otto like he would for his own son.
According to a recent report from GQ, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy Joseph Yun learned in early June 2017 that Warmbier — who was arrested in January 2016 and sentenced to hard labor in the communist nation — was unconscious.
“I was completely shocked,” Yun said. “I came back immediately, and I told Secretary Tillerson … and we determined at the time that we needed to get him and the other prisoners out as soon as possible, and I should contact Pyongyang and say I wanted to come right away.”
When Trump heard the news, he acted immediately. The “strategic patience” methods implemented under the Obama administration were over.
“When Trump learned of Otto’s condition, he doubled down on the order for Yun to rush to Pyongyang and bring Otto home,” the GQ report states.
And he didn’t ask for North Korea’s permission, either.
“The North Koreans were unilaterally informed that an American plane would soon land in Pyongyang and that United States diplomats and doctors would get off,” the report continues.
According to an anonymous State Department official, Trump sounded more like a dad than the president of a country when he heard the news of Otto’s condition.
“The president was very invested in bringing Otto home,” the official told GQ. “Listening to him deliberate on this, he sounded to me a lot more like a dad.”
“We were very scared,” the official continued, explaining that no one knew what kind of reception they would receive from North Korea when they arrived.
“The North Koreans said we could send a delegation to see Otto, but that we would have to discuss some of the conditions of getting him out once we got there,” he explained.
When Yun and the rest of the rescue team arrived in North Korea and they were finally allowed to see Warmbier, he was beyond recognition.
“In an isolated second-floor ICU room, Flueckiger was presented with a pale, inert man with a feeding tube threaded through his nostrils,” the report continues. “Could this really be Otto? Flueckiger wondered, for the body looked so different from the pictures he had seen of the homecoming king.”
Although the team was able to secure Warmbier’s release, he was barely alive. He was reunited with his family and died that June.
Warmbier’s father Fred Warmbier has publicly criticized the Obama administration for failing to take action to rescue his son.
“When Otto was first taken, we were advised by the past administration to take a low profile while they worked to obtain his release,” Warmbier said.
“We did so without result. Earlier this year, Cindy and I decided the time for strategic patience was over. … It is my understanding that (Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Y. Yun) and his team, at the direction of the president, aggressively pursued resolution of the situation.”
Asked if the Obama administration could have done more to save his son, he replied, “I think the results speak for themselves.”