The president then proceeded to appear on one of his favorite programs, Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. In that interview, Trump attempted to explain what happened at the summit, his relationship with Kim Jong Un and why he walked away from the negotiations.
No American president has been able to denuclearize North Korea and though Trump has claimed in the past that he “alone can fix” many of America’s problems, it appears in the case of North Korea, among countless other foreign policy controversies, the president is finding more difficulties than he appeared to anticipate.
In Trump’s interview with Hannity, he expanded on his positive feelings towards the North Korean dictator, "Some people say I shouldn't like him… Why shouldn't I like him?"
This is in stark contrast to how Trump was referring to Kim Jong Un just over a year ago when he was taunting him as “little rocket man.” Now, Trump goes into interviews saying he gets along “really well” with Kim Jong Un and that "he's a real personality and he's very smart. He's sharp as you can be, and he's a real leader, and he's pretty mercurial.”
Trump later in the interview explains he wanted complete denuclearization while Kim would only concede “certain areas.”
Trump is never the type to admit to being outclassed but in the case of Kim Jong Un, it is clear Trump’s negotiating tactics turned out to be rather dubious.
At the same time of Trump’s summit with Kim, was the congressional testimony of Trump’s former lawyer for a decade, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty and is going to jail for tax fraud and making false statements among other charges.
Cohen’s turn from trusted Trump confidant and fixer to calling the president and his former boss “a cheat” is one that clearly bothered Trump during his summit with Kim as he tweeted, “For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the “walk.” Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!”
For Trump though, the Cohen testimony somehow did not end up being his most difficult explanation to make over the last week.
Otto Warmbier was an American University of Virginia student who was traveling to North Korea when he was jailed for 17 months for allegedly stealing. Trump was given credit by Warmbier’s family when he was released and died shortly thereafter due to the terrible treatment of him in North Korea.
But during a news conference with Kim, when Trump was asked about Warmbier in relation to Kim, he said he took the dictator “at his word” and he was unaware of the situation at the time. Warmbier’s parents publicly chastised Trump as did the media and politicians.
Trump is the type to never apologize so when he saw the criticism from all sides, he did what he has done in regards to the whole North Korean situation, deflect, tweeting: “I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family. Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous Administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch. Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death. Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often!”
While this is probably as close as the Warmbier family can hope for in terms of responsibility or an apology from Trump, ultimately his original statements were not misinterpreted at all.
“I did speak about it, and I don’t believe that [Kim] would’ve allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “Just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places. And bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was — I don’t believe he knew about it.”
Many pundits have compared Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s explanation as similar to his tendency to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin or Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on their international crimes. While similar, in this case, Trump is actively negotiating for a solution all American presidents have been unable to achieve, a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
It seems as though Kim knows Trump’s tactics and is simply out-negotiating him by managing to keep his nuclear weapons, garnering heaps of praise from Trump while simultaneously undermining him.
Adam Tismăneanu is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. with a bachelors degree in journalism and media studies from Northeastern University in Boston.