Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) was a guest on “The Daily Briefing” with Dana Perino on Fox News Thursday morning. The interview was primarily about North Korea and President Trump’s apparently fruitless talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as Trump’s non-response about the death of American Otto Warmbier. As it is in many of Gardner’s television and radio appearances, the most fascinating part of the interview was about what Gardner didn’t say, as you’ll see in a moment.
Gardner appeared on Fox News Thursday because he fancies himself to be a foreign policy expert on North Korea. Gardner is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Chair of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. He likes to think that he has the President’s ear when it comes to North Korea, though in reality, Gardner seems to shift right along with Trump in most discussions about the DPRK.
During Gardner’s four-minute interview with Perino, he was asked specifically about something that CNN called “Trump’s shocking, shameful about-face on Otto Warmbier.” Warmbier was an American student who was captured and tortured by North Korea between 2015-17. He was ultimately returned to the United States in a comatose state in June 2017; Warmbier died less than a week later in Cincinnati, Ohio. Following his summit in Vietnam, President Trump was asked about Warmbier and whether the subject came up with Kim. As the New York Times and multiple other news outlets reports, Trump’s response was…awful:
President Trump’s refusal to blame Kim Jong-un for the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died in 2017 after being imprisoned in North Korea, set off anger and sympathy for the young man’s family among political leaders in the United States on Thursday.
Before their summit meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended abruptly, Mr. Trump said that he and Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader, had discussed Mr. Warmbier and that Mr. Kim felt “badly” about what happened to the American. Mr. Warmbier died shortly after he was released to the United States, with doctors saying he had sustained a catastrophic brain injury.
Referring to Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump said, “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”
He also said: “I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen, it 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, I don’t believe that he knew about it.”
To get an idea of the immediate blowback to Trump’s words, take a look at what former Senator and Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum told CNN on Thursday morning:
“This is reprehensible, what he just did. [Pols emphasis] He gave cover, as you said, to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier. And again, I don’t understand why the President does this. I am disappointed, to say the least, that he did it.”
As The Hill reports today, several Republican Senators are “fuming over Trump comments on Warmbier”:
Trump’s statement that he believed Kim when he said he didn’t know at the time of Warmbier’s treatment left a number of GOP senators upset.
“I personally find that statement extremely hard to believe,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who represents Warmbier’s home state, warned the president not to be “naive” about the “brutal nature” of the North Korean regime in a speech on the Senate floor.
So, what did Gardner have to say about Trump shrugging off questions about Warmbier’s death? Nothing at all, actually. Gardner was very careful not to express express one iota of outrage at Trump’s remarks.
Perino opened her segment with Gardner by playing a sample of Trump’s response to questions about Warmbier. Later, she asked Gardner directly about Trump’s statement. Here’s that exchange:
PERINO: When you hear that the President says Kim Jong Un didn’t know and that he’ll take him at his word — do you take Kim Jong Un at his word?
GARDNER: Look, I’ve talked to Fred and Cindy Warmbier. The tragedy that they went through. Otto Warmbier – they made a spectacle of him to the world, accusing him of being a traitor. A spy. And they executed him. [Pols emphasis] The blood of Otto Warmbier is on the hands of Kim Jong Un. There’s no doubt in my mind that he knew about it, he allowed it to happen, and the responsibility lies directly with Kim Jong Un.
If you’re playing word bingo at home, you probably noticed that Gardner specifically avoided words like “President,” “Donald,” or “Trump.” At the same time, Gardner makes it clear that he has no doubt of Kim Jong Un’s knowledge and involvement in Warmbier’s detention and, ultimately, his death.
Now, think about this for a moment: Gardner openly calls Warmbier’s death an “execution” at the hands of the North Koreans. Yet unlike many of his Senate Republican colleagues, Gardner cannot summon any sort of indignation at the fact that President Trump just gave Kim Jong Un a pass for Warmbier’s death.
Gardner did manage to manufacture some outrage later in his interview with Perino – but on an altogether different subject. It took a question about the Colorado legislature voting to change the way we elect the President of the United States – the National Popular Vote proposal – to get Gardner riled up:
PERINO: I am, frankly, a little shocked that a small state like Colorado would do this, and I’d like your thoughts on it.
GARDNER: Well, this just says that the person that Colorado votes for may not get Colorado’s votes. We’ll go follow New York, or California, or Texas, or Florida. The design of the Electoral College was to give smaller states a voice, but what they have done with this legislation is to say, you know what, we don’t care if Colorado has a voice, because the Presidential candidate may not win Colorado. Or they may win Colorado, and we’ll give those votes to somebody else. This is outrageous what they are doing to silence the votes in a state like Colorado. [Pols emphasis] This is giving away our electoral process and our votes, and I think…
PERINO: What have you heard from constituents about it in Colorado?
GARDNER: Disbelief. You know, there’s a lot of people who don’t know about this, actually. They’ve kind of done it quickly at the very beginning of the legislative session. There’s a lot of people I think will be surprised when the candidate that wins Colorado doesn’t get Colorado votes. That’s going to be a real shock to a lot of people.
What Gardner is saying here is not at all what is actually happening; Colorado voters aren’t just going to wake up the day after the next Presidential election and scream out, “We did WHAT?” Not only is the NPV proposal unlikely to be implemented by 2020 (more states still need to join this coalition before it can take effect), but there’s a 100% chance that people will learn more about this in the meantime.
We don’t want to dwell on this point, however, because it would overlook Gardner’s totally creepy ability to express more remorse about a bill in the Colorado legislature than he can muster for President Trump’s refusal to blame Kim Jong Un for the death of an American student.
But, hey, Gardner sure does smile pretty.