Trump, speaking at a news conference in Hanoi after the abrupt end to his second summit with Kim, said he was taking Kim’s word for it when the North Korean leader said he didn’t know about Warmbier’s mistreatment at a prison in the isolated country.
“I believe something very bad happened to him,” Trump said. “I don’t think leadership knew about it.”
Warmbier, a University of Virginia student from Ohio, was in a coma when he was released back to the U.S. North Korean officials said Warmbier was suffering from botulism before slipping into a coma and denied torturing him. He died days later.
But his parents have long said the government tortured their son, resulting in his death. Trump asserted in September 2017 that Warmbier was “tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”
Trump's comments Thursday drew criticism back home.
Former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is weighing a presidential run, tweeted, "Otto Warmbier was brutally murdered by Kim Jung Un. Trump believes North Koreans and Saudis as they murder a US citizen and resident. Disgraceful."
Trump's former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted: "Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime."
Warmbier was originally arrested for allegedly taking down a sign of the late dictator Kim Jong Il while he was in the country with a tour group.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.