On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders noted that the administration doesn't comment on hostage negotiations, a remark necessitated by reports that North Korea billed the US $2 million for Otto Warmbier's hospice care before the 21-year-old student was sent back to the US in 2017. On Friday morning, however, President Trump headed over to Twitter to address the issue himself, the Washington Post reports. "No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else," Trump tweeted. Trump doubled down on this claim while speaking with reporters Friday outside the White House, saying, "We did not pay money for our great Otto. I haven't paid money for any hostage. ... We don't pay money for hostages."
Sources tell the Post that the bill—which some, including Warmbier's father, think sounds like a ransom—made its way to the Treasury Department and stayed unpaid at least through 2017. In his tweet, Trump also said "this is not the Obama Administration that paid 1.8 Billion Dollars for four hostages, or gave five terroist hostages plus, who soon went back to battle, for traitor Sgt. Bergdahl!" Those incidents are apparently references to a $400 million cash payment sent to Iran on the same day Iran released four US prisoners in 2016—the US says the cash wasn't a ransom—and the exchange of five Taliban members for US soldier Bowe Bergdahl. In a second tweet Friday, Trump quoted a "Cheif [sic] Hostage Negotiator" as saying, "President Donald J. Trump is the greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States." The White House has since clarified that Trump was referring to remarks made by Robert O'Brien, special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. (Read more Otto Warmbier stories.)