White House national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday that North Korea should give a "full accounting of what happened" in the death of an American citizen who fell into a coma while in the regime's custody.
Bolton made the remark when asked during an interview with CNN if he agreed with President Donald Trump, who took North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "at his word" that he did not have any involvement with Otto Warmbier's mistreatment.
"Look, the president made it very clear he considers what happened to Otto Warmbier an act of brutality that's completely unacceptable to the American side," Bolton told "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper. "The fact is, the best thing North Korea could do right now would be to give us a full accounting of what happened and who was responsible for it."
When Tapper pressed Bolton if he agreed with Trump that Kim didn't know about the fatal injuries Warmbier suffered in North Korean custody, Bolton said, "My opinion doesn't matter."
"You're the national security adviser to the president," Tapper replied. "Your opinion matters quite a bit."
"I am not the national security decision-maker. That's his view," Bolton explained.
Critics equated Trump's acceptance of Kim's denial to other incidents where he believed notorious strongmen's professions of innocence, such as when he accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's denial of interference in the 2016 election and implied we will never know if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
"He's not saying he's siding with dictators over Americans," Bolton said. "As with what I just said on North Korea, the administration position expressed by the president and every other official who has addressed it is we want a full accounting from the Saudis. So I think that's entirely consistent with finding out, getting to the bottom of what happened."
Warmbier was a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a propaganda poster during a visit to the reclusive communist nation in 2016. He fell into a coma in North Korean custody and died from a brain injury shortly after returning to the U.S. in June 2017.
"I don't believe he knew about it," Trump said of Kim last week after their summit in Vietnam was cut short. "He tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word."
Trump also said Kim – whom he called his "good friend" – felt "badly about" Warmbier's death.
Otto Warmbier's parents respond: 'Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son'
'I hold North Korea responsible': Trump says Warmbier comments 'misinterpreted'
"Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto," Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement on Friday after Trump's comments about the death of their son. "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity."
In response to the criticism, Trump tweeted that he had been "misinterpreted" – although he did not explain how – and said, "Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death."
"I love Otto and think of him often!" Trump said. He did not go so far as to directly blame Kim, however.
Former ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who spent years negotiating with North Korea, said in an interview with MSNBC that it was "inconceivable" that Kim could not have known about Warmbier's treatment.
"North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship. Anything that the leadership does has to be approved by the man at the top," said Rosa Park, director of programs and editor at The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Tapper told Bolton, "I don't know one expert on North Korea who thinks that anything could have happened to Otto Warmbier without Kim Jong Un knowing about it ahead of time."
"Good for them," Bolton replied without elaborating.
"I give my advice to the president," Bolton said. "He makes up his own mind. That's why he's president."
North Korea summit: Why Trump's failure to reach a deal is being lauded in Washington
Bolton also defended Trump's second summit with Kim, which ended early without any agreement.
"I don't agree at all that it was a failed summit," Bolton said on "Fox News Sunday."
"I think the obligation of the president of the United States is to defend and advance American national security interest and I think he did that, by rejecting a bad deal and by trying again to persuade Kim Jong Un to take the big deal that really could make a difference for North Korea."
Bolton said Trump is "not desperate for a deal, not with North Korea, not with anybody if it's contrary to American national interest."
Contributing: John Fritze, USA TODAY; Jackie Borchardt and Jessie Balmert, Cincinnati Enquirer
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: John Bolton on Trump accepting Kim's Warmbier denial: 'My opinion doesn't matter'