A former State Department official turned congressman questioned Mike Pompeo on Kim Jong Un’s culpability for human rights violations, pressing the Secretary of State to answer how such a person could be likeable.
Rep. Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, asked Pompeo whether the North Korean leader was responsible for the country’s labor camps and the deaths of his uncle and half-brother.
To each of those questions, Pompeo replied, “He’s the leader of the country.”
The New Jersey Democrat then asked whether Kim “was responsible for the decision not to allow Otto Warmbier to come home until he was on death’s door.”
North Korea released Warmbier in June 2017 after more than a year of imprisonment. He was returned to the US in a coma, blind and deaf. He never regained consciousness and died days later at the age of 22. US officials blamed North Korea for the brain damage that led to his death.
Pompeo deferred to remarks from President Donald Trump, who said after his second summit with Kim that he did not hold him responsible for Warmbier’s death.
“He made that statement. We all know that the North Korean regime was responsible for the tragedy that occurred to Otto Warmbier. I’ve met that family, I know those people, I love them dearly. They suffered mightily,” Pompeo said.
The Warmbier family rebuked Trump in a statement, saying, “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
Following this line of questioning, Malinowski twice asked Pompeo “what’s to like” about Kim. The secretary of state told him not to “make this a political football.”
“It’s inappropriate. It’s inappropriate to do,” he said.
Malinowski also questioned why the President’s affection for Kim was “a sufficient reason to cancel or not to pursue sanctions against companies helping his nuclear program.”
Trump tweeted last week that he had withdrawn “additional large scale Sanctions” on North Korea – sparking mass confusion over what sanctions Trump was referring to and what the policy implications would be. The White House declined to offer details, saying only that Trump “likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”
Pompeo did not directly reply to Malinowski’s question. He claimed that “there have been more sanctions put in place by this administration with a global coalition than at any time in the world’s history.”
“We will continue to enforce the UN Security Council Resolutions and do our best to encourage every nation in the world to do so,” Pompeo continued. “I only wish the previous administration had undertaken this same effort.”
“Well actually it did,” Malinowski countered.
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Veronica Stracqualursi, Jeremy Diamond, Kylie Atwood and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.