Team Trump tries to deflect news they agreed to $2 million payment for Otto Warmbier release

PBS NewsHour / YouTube WATCH LIVE President Donald Trump holds 1540729449.jpg...
PBS NewsHour / YouTube

Everyone in the Trump “administration” lies about everything, all the time, reflexively, the end.

After the Washington Post learned that Donald Trump personally approved a promised $2 million to North Korea for the “medical care” of comatose American prisoner Otto Warmbier, Trump got predictably peeved and called the report “fake news.”

“There was no money paid,” Trump said. “That was a fake news report that money was paid. I haven’t paid money for any hostage.”

Except that the report didn’t claim the money had been paid. It only asserted that Trump approved the signing of a document promising the United States would pay the $2 million demanded by the North Koreans. And now the whole administration is trying to play a too-clever-by-half game of denying something that wasn’t claimed in an attempt to dodge responsibility for what was.

On Fox News Sunday, national security adviser (God help us all) John Bolton confirmed that the agreement happened while indignantly claiming the administration had “absolutely not” paid the money.

But he’s a liar, because on Sunday national security adviser (God help us all) John Bolton confirmed that the agreement happened. “That’s what I’m told, yes,” Bolton told Fox News Sunday. On Monday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indignantly repeated the same denying non-denial: “At no time in this administration have we paid for any hostages to be released, and we have no intention of doing so.”

Good to know! But it’s not what was reported. The Washington Post reported that the team sent to bring Warmbier back to the United States was presented with a $2 million bill, with the understanding that Warmbier was not going to be released unless it was agreed to. The decision on whether to sign the demand was bumped up the executive chain to Donald Trump himself, and Trump personally approved signing it. The story did not, however, say that the money had already changed hands.

Agreeing to pay a ransom for the release of an American citizen is a bad look, for an administration of self-described tough “negotiators”, so now the administration is in defensive mode. And the defense is that well sure, Donald Trump approved the money—but he always intended to stiff the North Koreans like one of his ex-plumbers, so it doesn’t count.

There is a catch, however, and it is a big one. The Trump “administration” lies about everything, all the time, even when the lies are repeatedly disproven. It is press secretary Sarah Sanders’ entire reason for being. It is why Kellyanne Conway still collects a White House paycheck. It is, for Donald Trump, an all-consuming obsession.

So we don’t actually know whether the $2 million ransom has been paid, or will be paid in the future. None of the figures involved have a record that would justify blind faith in those declarations; John Bolton could have conducted the whole interview with the to-be-delivered check in a coat pocket, for all we know. Pompeo says “we” have no “intention” of paying the bill; Mike Pompeo has little to no influence on whether the White House “we” will be saying something different tomorrow. And as comforting as it is to, for once, think that Donald Trump’s crooked pattern of stiffing people he owes money to will play out again here, it is also a near-certainty that Trump would order the payment be made if the North Korean leadership insisted upon it as prerequisite for the next of Trump’s desperately-wanted “summits.”

This is the problem with an administration that reflexively lies about any story that makes Donald even slightly upset. We know they’re lying. We just don’t know much they’re lying.

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