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Parents Speak after North Korea Releases Comatose Son; Father: Son was "Taken Hostage" by North Korea; Tonight: Congress Plays Charity Game Despite Attack. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired June 15, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FRED WARMBIER, FATHER OF U.S. STUDENT RELEASED BY NORTH KOREA: This is the coat he wore when he did his confession, and I thought. I'm proud of him.
And I'll start with an opening statement. I want to thank everyone who's shared their thoughts, prayers and best wishes with the Warmbier family during the past 17 months. The burden of our ordeal has been eased by the support we have experienced, not only from our friends in Cincinnati, but throughout Ohio, at the University of Virginia, throughout the United States, and indeed from around the world. I'd also like to thank Todd, Lynn, Mr. Siler, Mr. Burke from Wyoming High School. This is a place where Otto experienced some of the best moments of his young life and he would be pleased to know that his return to the United States would be acknowledged on these grounds.
My wife, Cindy, is at Otto's side this morning, as she has been since the moment he returned to Ohio. She wanted me to tell you that she knows that Otto is a fighter and she and I firmly believe that he fought to stay alive through the worst that the North Koreans could put him through in order to return to the family and community he loves.
Cindy joins me in expressing our gratitude to so many people. The wonderful people at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center are providing Otto the excellent medical care he has been denied for so long. As you know, the doctors there will be holding a press conference this afternoon to discuss Otto's medical status and I will leave the details of such matters to them.
We also want to thank Senator Rob Portman, who has stood by us throughout this entire ordeal. Last evening, we received a very nice phone call from President Trump, who told us that Secretary of State Tillerson worked hard to help bring Otto home. We are extremely grateful for their efforts and concern.
I would like to highlight this morning the bittersweet feeling that my family has. Relief that Otto is now home in the arms of those who love him and anger that he was so brutally treated for so long. We went for 15 months without a word from or about Otto. It was only a week ago that we were informed that the North Korean government now claims he was in a coma for almost all of that time. Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing the coma -- and we don't -- there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret and denied him top- notch medical care for so long. When Otto was first taken, we were advised by the past administration to take a low profile while they worked to obtain his release. We did so without resolve.
Earlier this year, Cindy and I decided the time for strategic patience was over and we made a few media appearances and traveled to Washington to meet with Ambassador Joe Yun at the State Department. It is my understanding that the Ambassador Yun and his team at the direction of the president aggressively pursued resolution of the situation. They have our thanks for bringing Otto home.
I know you have many questions about what transpired, so do we. We have few answers. There's no excuse for the way the North Koreans treated our son and no excuse for the way they have treated so many others. I call on them to release the other Americans being held. No other family should have to endure what the Warmbiers have. Thank you.
Now I'd be happy to answer questions.
MODERATOR: Before you begin asking questions, please state your name and the news organization you're from, please.
WARMBIER: That's a loaded softball question. Obviously, Otto's an amazing kid. What he endured, the brutality and the terror that he went through and he made it back to the United States and the performance he did. But that doesn't really speak to who Otto really is.
Otto is a sweet, loving, kind person and that's what we loved about him and that's what his teachers loved about him. Obviously, Otto was brilliant, but that's not what Otto was.
[10:05:00] Otto is a sweet, loving, kind person, who, he was never in a fight. So, thank you for the question.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) "New York Times." You said that you want (INAUDIBLE) the doctors to discuss about his condition. But I wonder if you could just clear up a little bit about how he's doing right now?
WARMBIER: We're trying to get -- Cheryl, the question is what we're doing about Otto's condition?
QUESTION: How he is.
WARMBIER: How is Otto?
WARMBIER: Well, we're trying to make him comfortable.
QUESTION: Can you just tell us a little bit. What did you say? What did you do, when you're able to see him the first time? Did you say anything to him?
WARMBIER: Of course. What did I say to my son? I knelt down by his side and I hugged him and I told him I missed him and I was so glad that he made it home.
WARMBIER: I don't know. You don't feel that. These things are tough to process, but he's with us and we're trying to make him comfortable and we want to be a part of his life.
MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: You thanked President Trump and then you also said that the past administration didn't do enough. So, do you feel like President Obama should have been doing more to help?
WARMBIER: The question is, do I think the past administration could have done more? I think the results speak for themselves.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Miguel Marquez with CNN. You say that you doubted botulism and sleeping pills -- do you think it was physical injury that left him in his state?
WARMBIER: We're going to leave that to the doctors today that -
QUESTION: Can you give us a sense. Obviously, the relations between North Korea and the U.S. have been bad for some time. Can you give us a sense, a guy from a lovely town in Ohio, what (INAUDIBLE)
WARMBIER: That's a good question. I'm proud of Otto and the courage he showed by going to North Korea and having that adventurous side to him. And so, the fact that he was taken and treated this way is horrible and it's tough to process, but we're tremendously proud of him. And so, we're looking to the future.
QUESTION: There's one thing that doesn't quite (INAUDIBLE) yet, you say you weren't told his condition until last week. What happened between those three months? Why did the Swedes pass on these?
WARMBIER: It's our understanding they didn't know.
WARMBIER: Nobody has seen or heard from Otto since March of 2016. Nobody.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) What were you doing in terms of efforts to try to make some contact with your son during that period of time, if -
WARMBIER: Sure, sure. What did our efforts consist of to help bring our son home?
WARMBIER: Good question. We've been to Washington, D.C., over a dozen times. We met everyone in the past administration from John Kerry to the Swedish Ambassador Sternlof, who lives in Pyongyang. He came in town. We met his aide when he came in town. We've met our senators, our congressmen. We've worked with Governor Richardson. So, we were -- those were our efforts and we relied on this false premise that they would treat Otto fairly and let him go and we -- Otto was held as a war criminal. They termed his confinement as a war criminal. And so, that seemed to get Cindy and I's attention.
And so, we knew the dynamic was changing and honestly, nothing was happening in our world for Otto -- no communication, no letters, nothing. So, we did what we could. We tried to stay low. We were advised that it was important that you don't upset the North Koreans. And so, we followed that logic.
[10:10:00] And then at this -- there came a time where we're tired, that doesn't seem to have any impact, so we went public with an interview on "The Tucker Carlson Show" and then did a couple written pieces and then very quickly, we have Otto home.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) President Obama?
WARMBIER: Oh, never, never, absolutely not. No. No.
MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) Fox News. Did you still believe that Otto (INAUDIBLE) a day after the trial? Can you talk a little bit about the timeline?
WARMBIER: Well, personally, North Korea is a pariah regime. They're brutal and they're terroristic. You can't believe anything -- well, it's your choice. We don't believe anything they say. We see the results of their actions with Otto, so it's all speculation.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) from "Voice of America." If you could speak directly to the North Korean regime or North Korean people, what would you say to them?
WARMBIER: I would say I'm so proud of -- what I would say to the North Korean regime, I would say I'm so proud of Otto, my son, who has been in a pariah regime for the last 18 months, brutalized and terrorized and he's now home with his family and I'm just tremendously proud of Otto. His spirit is with us and I can share my spirit with his spirit and I'm just so happy for that.
MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) WARMBIER: Sure. Was Otto treated differently? The quick answer is the results speak for themselves. And you'll hear more about it at the medical conference today.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) with NBC 4 in Columbus. From the beginning of the situation, can you speak to us about when you found out (INAUDIBLE)?
WARMBIER: Sure. The North Koreans, when did we find out Otto was going to North Korea? The North Koreans lure Americans to travel to North Korea via tour groups run out of China who advertise slick ads on the Internet proclaiming no American ever gets detained off of our tours and this is a safe place to go.
So, Otto's a young, thrill-seeking, great kid who was going to be in that part of the world for a college experience and said, hey, I've heard some friends who have done this. I would like to do this, so we agreed to let him do that.
They lure Americans and then they take them hostage and then they do things to them and that's what happened to my son. He was taken hostage at the airport as he was trying to leave the country and then he was put through the trial, which we've all seen. He performed amazingly well. And here we are today.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) keeping what you see as a tough approach to North Korea?
WARMBIER: I don't see a tough approach to North Korea. They're still able to take Americans hostage and abuse them. They're still able to be terrorists in the world. I don't know that North Korea's -- listen, North Korea terrorized -- it started with the prisoners of war of the North Korean war. It extended to the USS Pueblo. And now it extended to my son, Otto.
WARMBIER: It's not -- I'm not in government and that's not my call.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
WARMBIER: You're welcome.
WARMBIER: North Korea has proven they are not nature's noble men. Again, do you believe my son needed a used car? Do you believe -- he's not even a member of the church that he was accused of stealing a banner from. So, again, I don't really -- we are not burdened with whatever North Korea says or does any longer, the Warmbier family is not.
[10:15:00] And I'm so happy for Cindy, myself, my community. This community's been amazing. They've been supportive. We've been forced to be quiet and act different because we didn't want to offend them. And so, I don't know if that answers your question, but that's my feeling.
MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am.
WARMBIER: Did Dennis Rodman -- no, he didn't. Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with Otto. It's a diversion. You know, they just released Otto. It's a diversion, I'm sure. This is all planned.
WARMBIER: Dennis Rodman's? I could care less.
MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) you mentioned that he was over there because a company in China lured him there. What would you say to other parents? What was the name of the company? And -
WARMBIER: Sure, yes. Well, again, Young Pioneers Tours. They advertise it's the safest trip ever and you know it's the one your mother wouldn't want you to go on. But what they do is they provide fodder for the North Koreans and my son happened to become fodder for the North Koreans. And so, that's what happened. They took him hostage at the airport and then the outcome is self-evidence, as it will become.
MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am, over here.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) I'm just wondering that as a father, you know now that everything's kind of over, how did it feel to have your son involved in this political ploy of sorts?
WARMBIER: How did it feel? Otto's always been an amazing guy and he's always made me look good. He made me and my wife look good. He was the salutatorian of the school here. He did an amazing speech. So, it doesn't surprise me, honestly. It saddens me. It's just a -- it saddens me.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir, in the front.
QUESTION: Yes, Dave Kang "Associated Press." I wanted to ask you, you said North Korea's a pariah state and you can't trust what they say, but they say, they claim that they released Otto off (INAUDIBLE). What do you think is the real reason they released Otto?
WARMBIER: Sure. What's the real reason they released Otto? Well, I think the State Department was negotiating pretty tough with them. And so, I don't know that we're ever going to find the answer. They did not do this out of the kindness of their hearts. North Korea doesn't do anything out of the kindness of their hearts. But I don't think we'll find out.
QUESTION: You don't think we'll find out?
WARMBIER: I really don't.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit more about your conversation with the president last week?
WARMBIER: Sure. President Trump called me at say 10:00 p.m. last night and just wanted to find out how Cindy and I were doing and wanted to know about Otto. It was a really nice conversation. It was kind and it was, are you taking care of yourself and you know, we worked hard and you know and I'm sorry this is the outcome and told me a little bit about you know Secretary Tillerson and Joe Yun. And you know, they teamed up and they made things happen.
And you know, he was very candid and it was a nice conversation. And to be honest with you, I had avoided conversations with him and then, because to what end? I'm dealing with my son. This is about Otto. But I did take the call and it was gracious and it was nice and it felt good and I thank him for that.
MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) Do you plan after this to get involved politically in this kind of arena or do you see yourself far away from (INAUDIBLE)
WARMBIER: No, I don't. We did not choose this. We don't like this. We do this because we have to and if we want to be in this arena? No. It's not -- Cindy and I, this is not what we wanted. We did this because we had to.
MODERATOR: We have time for two more questions.
WARMBIER: Sure. That's a great question and I think we felt -- what did we feel like when we got the call last Tuesday that Otto was in a coma in North Korea? Disbelief, couldn't sit down. I don't know what being in shock is, but I'm pretty sure I was. I was out of town with my son, Austin and then we drove home immediately, got in at 1:00 p.m. and told Cindy.
[10:20:08] And you know we've been brutalized for the last 18 months with misinformation, no information. And so, it's -- we are proud of the fact that our family are basically happy, positive people and we're going to stay that way and we're thrilled that our son is on American soil. We're in the school that he thrived in and I'm able to talk to you on Otto's behalf and I'm able to wear the jacket that he wore when he gave his confession. I'm not confessing. I'm speaking. But Otto, I love you and I'm so crazy about you and I'm so glad you're home. You are such a great guy. And by the way, my family has been rock solid throughout this. We have supported the heck out of one another. And it's just been a -- it's been a wonderful experience to feel that.
And now, we get to feel the love of the community and not have this crazy, oh, what are they thinking? Are we afraid at what North Korea will say? Don't put ribbons on the trees. All that's gone. So, we don't care now.
MODERATOR: All right, this is the last question, gentleman in the back.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) two-fold question. Have you heard at all, your family, from Jeff Fowle (INAUDIBLE) the marine detained by North Korea. (INAUDIBLE) And do you see the similarities between Otto's situation and Jeffrey's?
WARMBIER: We see absolutely no similarities and have we communicated with Jeff Fowle and the others? No. Otto is -- Otto is a young university student who was on a tour with other university students. He's never been in trouble in his life. He wasn't trying to do anything in the country.
There just weren't similarities. He wasn't -- Otto was considered a war criminal. We weren't looking for confirmation that, oh, this is the way things are. It's our son. It's unique. And we knew it was unique and it is unique. So, no and they've reached out to us and I think they only wanted to help, but that's not what we're looking for.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You've been listening to Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier, who was just released after more than a year of captivity in North Korea. Fred, the father, very grateful but also a little bit angry, frankly. Grateful that his son is home, angry at the North Koreans for holding him for so long, lying, he says, about what happened to him. The North Koreans say that he had botulism, took a sleeping pill, which put him in a coma, says the North Koreans lied.
And also, I think frankly, Fred Warmbier frustrated that there was not as much action by the United States over the time that he was in captivity, said he's very grateful to the Trump administration for helping to get him home right now and grateful for a conversation that he had with the president after his release.
Fred Warmbier speaking just moments ago, would not give a medical update on his son. That's coming later today. We believe that Otto Warmbier still in a coma after more than a year in North Korea.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And said that he fell to his knees and hugged his son when he came home. Meantime, we are live in Washington for you this morning, a city that is shaken but a city resolute after yesterday's horrifying attack on Republican lawmakers during their baseball practice.
This morning, Congressman Steve Scalise remains in critical condition, as does lobbyist, Matt Mika. Doctors say a single rifle shot tore through Scalise's internal organs. He now faces more surgeries ahead.
And moments ago, Vice President Pence left the hospital where Officer Crystal Griner is also recovering from a gunshot wound to her ankle. We're also learning more about the man who shot Scalise and three others, his Facebook posts showing many, many political gripes.
BERMAN: So, despite the attack, the baseball game tonight goes on. Lawmakers from both parties will play in the annual charity game, a much-needed show of unity in the nation's capital.
Also, new this morning, a major development in the Russia investigation, "The Washington Post" reports that special counsel Robert Mueller has started investigating President Trump for potential obstruction of justice. And this morning, the president responded with what appears to be a direct attack on the special counsel himself.
[10:25:03] We are covering all the angles this morning. Let's begin with Alex Marquardt beside that baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. Good morning, Alex.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. That's right. Vice President Pence visiting the MedStar Hospital in Washington this morning where several of the victims of yesterday's shooting were taken. Four people in all were shot by James Hodgkinson yesterday. I just want to give you a quick overview of their conditions.
The person who is in the most serious situation is Congressman Steve Scalise. He was hit in the hip by one round. Doctors saying that the bullet traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs and causing severe bleeding. He has received multiple units of blood transfusion and will require additional operations. On top of that, Matt Mika, the lobbyist, also in critical condition. We know that Vice President Pence visited personally with Capitol Officer Crystal Griner. She had been shot in the ankle. We are told that she is in good condition. Finally, congressional staffer Zack Barth, he had been shot in the leg in yesterday's attack and been released from the hospital. He spoke with "New Day" earlier today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZACK BARTH, WOUNDED CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER: I saw him turn his gun towards me. He started firing. Everything around me started to pop. Felt a sharp burning pain in my leg. Looked down, I had been hit. And at that point, adrenaline was pumping through me and my fight-or- flight reflexes took over and I decided if I wanted to live, I needed to get better cover. So I sprinted down, I literally ran for my life and jumped into the dugout, into Congressman Williams' arms. And you know, from there, I was injured, but the more important thing was staying alive, keeping my head down, keeping everybody else's head down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Now, so many this morning hailing those Capitol Police officers as heroes. They were only there because Congressman Scalise is part of the leadership. Had they not been there, many have said it could have been a massacre. John, Poppy?
BERMAN: Thank goodness they were there and they did their job so well. Alex Marquardt thanks so much for being with us.
HARLOW: A sign of unity, resilience, bipartisanship here in the nation's capital this morning. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will press on tonight with their charity baseball game.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks and Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, both from the great State of New York, nice to have you here. So, look, you are sitting here together, Democrat and Republican, on a day when we need to see a lot more of that. And frankly, for a nation that needs to see a lot more of it moving forward. Is this a moment of change, Congresswoman?
REP. CLAUDIA TENNEY (R), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think it is. And actually, I'd like to point out something really important that me and our freshman class did. We signed a Commitment to Civility on February 14th, of all days, Valentine's Day. And as our freshman class, we got together in our orientation and thought we should do that.
And in that Commitment to Civility, we agreed that we would include our Democratic colleagues and vice versa, on bills and resolutions and stick together. And in fact, tonight, I am going to be attending the game with Congressman Brad Schneider, who also has a son who's deployed. My son is deployed as a Marine and his son is deployed as a Navy officer.
So, we're both, you know, very close and we're sponsoring legislation together. So, there is an effort to do this and I think that Congressman Meeks would agree. I mean, he's been here longer than I am. He's sort of the dean of our delegation almost. So, I'm new and I think that's something that we've committed to right off the bat.
BERMAN: And it's great to see and it's great to see you both here today together, so thank you both for being here. Congressman Meeks, you have been at this longer, at least up here on Capitol Hill. You were around when Gabby Giffords was shot in Arizona. After that, there was this same sort of talk, everyone needs to come together, we need to try to tone down some of the rhetoric, you know, you can disagree without being disagreeable, as it were. It didn't last. How do you make it last this time?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: Let me tell you, I think that the untold story is that we are fiery when we're on the floor. We're all fiery sometimes on talk shows, et cetera, but you would be surprised at the relationships that we do have.
BERMAN: Why are we surprised, though? Why do we need to be surprised? Why can't we see it more?
MEEKS: Well, I think that, unfortunately, the atmosphere of which we're in and the climate of which we're in, you know, combativeness is what is the day.
HARLOW: But respectfully, don't you -- isn't it incumbent, Congresswoman, on both of you to create that environment? I mean, you're setting the example -- an example, at least, for the American people.
TENNEY: Yes and I think we've done that as a freshman class. We've recognized that there's been a lot of angst. And look, I come from a district where I've never even been endorsed by my local Republican Party, in any race I've ever won. I served three terms in the state assembly. I'm now serving in Congress.
I mean, I'm not the person who came in on a gilded path with the establishment. I've had to fight my way on both sides. So, I understand that being an independent and having to reach out to both sides and understand that there are compromises we can make. And I've done that as a new member of Congress. We have bills that we're working on together.