When Otto Warmbier’s father accompanied Vice President Mike Pence to the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year, he brought along a special gift for Pence’s wife.
Fred Warmbier gave Karen Pence a gold necklace with a circle and bars that spelled “Otto,” the vice president revealed on his annual financial disclosure report that was released Thursday. The necklace is valued at $520.
Otto Warmbier, then a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, was arrested in January 2016 during a five-day trip to North Korea for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from his Pyongyang hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
After 17 months in prison, Otto was released in June 2017 in a vegetative state and flown back to the United States where he died less than a week later with a severe neurological injury.
Fred Warmbier went to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to remind athletes and spectators of the Kim regime’s treatment of prisoners.
“Karen & I were honored to meet w/ victims of the oppressive North Korean regime,” the vice president tweeted during the trip. “We heard the harrowing stories of defectors who risked life & limb for freedom, & from Fred Warmbier, father of the late Otto Warmbier. We admire their resilience.”
But after President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi earlier this year, Trump said he did not believe that Kim knew about Warmbier’s condition or treatment during his imprisonment.
“He felt badly about it,” Trump said, referring to Kim. “He knew about it very well, but he knew it later.”
Fred and Cindy Warmbier issued a sharp rebuke through their lawyer.
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto,” their statement said. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity.”
The Warmbiers did not mention Trump by name, but within hours, the president tweeted that he had been “misinterpreted” over the issue.
The Warmbiers had attended the 2018 State of the Union address at Trump’s invitation. In the president’s speech, he called the family “powerful witnesses” to North Korea’s horrors as the Warmbier family watched from a guest box in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Warmbier family received two standing ovations during the speech. Fred and Cindy stood next to first lady Melania Trump and wept as they acknowledged the cheers.
“You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all,” Trump said. “Thank you very much.”
In addition to the necklace from the Warmbiers, Pence also reported that his wife received a gold necklace with her initials from Cincinnati artist Aaron Rubinstein. The necklace was presented after Karen Pence visited the artist’s store in April of last year, according to the report.
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