Trump's defense of Kim Jong Un over death of Otto Warmbier sparks bipartisan backlash

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 1, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: This president is responsible for having Otto Warmbier returned to this country and be reunited with his family in his final hours before he passed. What the president is talking about that Chairman Kim did not know what happened to Otto at the time when it happened.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-MD: Kellyanne Conway, this is the cleanup brigade once again. It was very clear what the president said. It was a despicable comment. He has said that he's got this love affair with Kim Jong-un who is a brutal dictator who is responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, D-OH: We shouldn't be naive about this regime and about the way they mistreat their own people and certainly the way they mistreated Otto Warmbier.


SHANNON BREAM, HOST: Let's bring in our panel to talk about this and more, Jason Riley, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Charles Lane, opinion writer for "The Washington Post," and Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the "Washington Free Beacon." Gentlemen, welcome to all of you.

So let's start here. Otto Warmbier's parents obviously have had to watch as President Trump has had praise for Kim Jong-un in certain respects, talked about their close relationship, how good of friends that they are and have become. They put a statement saying "We have been respectful during the summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that." Jason?

JASON RILEY, "WALL STREET JOURNAL" COLUMNIST: And it's not only their opinion. It's what U.S. intelligence officials have found as well. I think the White House realizes they needed to walk this back, and that's what you are seeing happening right now. And I think it's the right thing to do. Kim Jong-un basically took the position that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia took, which is these were rogue underlings. I really didn't know anything about it. I've very, very sorry. But we all know in countries like North Korea and Saudi Arabia nothing happens without the leadership at the top knowing about it. So they are obviously lying about this.

BREAM: So the president put out two tweets this afternoon. He says "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!" Chuck, that gets to this question about yes, he is saying this North Korea's fault, but he is not willing to directly attribute knowledge of it to Kim.

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, "WASHINGTON POST": He never has, actually. Even when he was talking about this in the State of the Union of, I believe it was in 2018 where he said we pledge to honor Otto's memory with American resolve, he only talked about the dictatorship. He's been trying to shield Kim from blame for this all along.

The thing that was different this time was he seemed to go an extra step and assert that he wouldn't have wanted to did that because it wouldn't have been to his advantage.

BREAM: President Trump talking about Kim.

LANE: Talking about Kim. It's almost like lawyering on his behalf. This has been a chronic problem for Donald Trump ever since he declared his candidacy is the way he talks about the human rights abuses of other countries. And he tends to relativize them. He tends to speak of them in morally exculpatory terms. Whether it's the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, strangely enough an old enemy like North Korea, or even suggesting that the United States killed a lot of people too. He is not over that problem.

BREAM: And Matthew, he gets a lot of heat also for the Helsinki situation with Putin and saying I believe him when he tells me they didn't interfere in the 2016 election. For him it seems that he's very relational. These relationships with the foreign leaders are the key for him he thinks to eventually being able to get important concessions for the U.S. And it seems his strategy is he's not going to insult them directly because that's how he believes he gets the deal done.

MONICA CROWLEY, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": The strategy is personal diplomacy. But I think he found the limits of personal diplomacy in this second summit where he really tried the charm approach, tried to talk up his love of Kim Jong-un, and it still didn't get him the dole.

And so as he conducts this attempt to really promote peace in the Korean peninsula, I think we have moved beyond denuclearization. We just want a ratcheting down of tension. He has to keep in mind who Kim is, who the North Korean regime are. And they are the world's most chronic and terrible violators of human rights.

BREAM: Just that's one hot point for the issue for the president this week, because the contrast to his efforts in North Korea was, of course, Michael Cohen being here on Capitol Hill, again, behind closed doors and in public as well. We want to get reaction from both sides of the aisle in the House.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-CALIF.: I think we all feel it was a very productive interview today where he was able to shed light on a lot of issues that are very core to our investigation, and we were able to drill down in great detail.

REP. CHRIS STEWART, R-UT: The Democrats intention is for this investigation to go through 2020 into the next election. There is no question about it. And if they don't find evidence of collusion, which they haven't, or obstruction, which they haven't, then they will look for something else.


BREAM: And that something else may be the president's tax returns because Mike Emanuel just reported moments ago forwarding something from a spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, saying that they will do everything necessary including litigation, whatever they have to do to get to the president's tax returns. Here's part of it. "improprieties and the lack of transparency around them," referring to the president, "give the House legitimate legislative oversight and legal reasons to review the president's tax returns." They go on to talk about getting those. The say "We will take all necessary steps, including litigation," if we have to, to get them. Jason?

RILEY: The Democrats now control more than two dozen committees with oversight responsibility, and they are just getting started. They are coming after tax returns. They are coming after the Trump family, the Trump business, the Trump Foundation. They are setting the groundwork here for impeachment. That is the ultimate goal. And these investigations are not about really finding anything new. It's about volume. How many can we go with here, keep them running right through the election. That is the goal. And I think that the president and the administration is going to be in a defensive crouch from now until 2020 because of it.

BREAM: Chuck, is this about, though, embarrassing the president because we know there's not going to be a line on the tax return that says $500,000 from Vladimir Putin. That's not going to be there. But are they trying to go after him with respect to his assets and his bragging how well he has done and how successful he is financially?

LANE: I have got to believe that if these tax returns reflected extremely well on him, he would have put them into the public domain. He has had this strange aversion to doing what every other presidential candidate and president has done in the past.

BREAM: He is unlike any other. The businessman --

LANE: No question. I am sure the return is a stack this high. Still, long ago a normal president would have revealed them. And so there has got to be something in there he doesn't want people to see. And sooner or later maybe we will see it.

I tend to slightly disagree with Jason. I am not sure impeachment is the Democrats' end game here. I think to the contrary, I think in some ways this is a substitute for impeachment. This is a situation where they have so much to work with, they can keep it going all the way through, as Mr. Stewart said, all the way through 2020.

BREAM: If he can block reelection, quickly, Matthew.

CROWLEY: Congress is a nuisance. The real danger is the Southern District of New York.

BREAM: Yes, that's going to be a lot of headache probably for the president. We'll talk about that as well.

Next up, the Friday lightning round. Justin Trudeau scandal, another entry into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes, plus winners and losers.



JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD, FORMER CANADIAN JUSTICE MINISTER: The prime minister asked me to help out, to find a solution here for SNC. I told him that I had done my due diligence and had made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision.

ANDREW SCHEER, CANADIAN CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER: What we have seen unfold over the last two weeks is a textbook case of government corruption.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I strongly maintain as I have from the beginning that I and my staff always acted appropriately.


BREAM: We're back with our panel to talk about the political scandal north of our border. Matt, we'll start with you with Justin Trudeau. Does he survive this?

CONTINETTI: Probably. He may not survive the next election. But in the 1980s "The New Republic" had a contest for the most boring headline, and the winner was "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," which appeared in the "New York Times." So it's funny to me that now we have actually exciting headlines from Canada.

BREAM: Again, you heard him say there that they never did anything inappropriate, Chuck, and he feels certain they'll be exonerated.

LANE: I am sorry to disappoint, but I think Justin Trudeau is right. Everything I've read suggests that what he was trying to do was remind this prosecutor that a lot of people's jobs were on the line and that she might consider using prosecutorial discretion with that in mind. He did not enrich himself. There is no evidence that he took anybody's campaign contribution to do this, or that he was doing anything beyond what often happens in government, which is people get together and say what is the best way to handle this? The only supposed benefit he was going to get out of this was the voters in Quebec would be happy. And I am not sure that's such a horrible scandal. To indulge in some Canadian stereotyping here, this is the ultimate Canadian scandal because it's all about what seems to me a violation of decorum.

BREAM: But trying to influence a decision that could directly impact on you because of jobs lost under your tenure --

LANE: But it's within his government.

RILEY: But in Montreal where this company is based and the province Quebec where he is popular. So there could be political consequences to this company being under a criminal investigation. But I will say this -- typically the Canadian press coverage of Justin Trudeau is like the American media's coverage of Barack Obama. It is overwhelmingly positive. So if the Canadian press won't let this go, it leads me to believe that there might be something to this scandal.

BREAM: OK, I want to get each of you to quickly weigh on the newest entrant into the Democratic field. Chuck, we'll start with you. We're talking about Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and he is all about the climate change.

LANE: All about the climate change, which is not, according to the polls, a mass appeal issue. But there is of course a relatively large minority who are intensely interested in it, so I guess his idea is if you can get the votes of those people in the Democratic primary you can succeed in jumping to the head of the field.

BREAM: Matthew?

CONTINETTI: Good luck. I had to explain who he was to my reporter when I assigned him the beat. So I think he has a long road ahead of him.

BREAM: And name recognition, Jason, obviously, but it's such a crowded field.

RILEY: It's not just name recognition. It's how he really distinguishes himself here as a governor, not really in any of his views or his agenda. That lane, that progressive lane is already chockfull of people. And it won't last long, even him distinguishing himself as a governor if someone like Hickenlooper from Colorado gets int eh race, or if Joe Biden with executive experience comes into the race. So no, I don't -- and back in his home state, he couldn't even get this green agenda passed in the form of a carbon tax. So he is now going to push on the country something he couldn't get passed in Washington, which is not Texas?

BREAM: He is making his name in that lane. OK, Jason, we'll start with your and work around. Winners and losers for this week?

RILEY: My winner is Kim Jong-un who succeeded in getting a platform with the leader of the free world. This is going to be propaganda gold. And it's what he wanted without budging an inch on his nuclear program.

My loser of the week is Representative Elijah Cummings for these circus- like hearings with Michael Cohen which really told us nothing new. And I hope that if he is going to continue down this road he comes up with more substance.

BREAM: OK. They are definitely going to continue down this road, Chuck. OK, your winner and loser?

LANE: My winner is the Warmbier family who respectfully but forcefully spoke up about the president's statement on their son and forced him to climb down or walk it back. My loser of the week is the prime minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu, who was already in a lot of trouble for reelection because he had formed an alliance with the remnants of the ultra-right racist party in Israel, and now he is on notice that he might be indicted on various fraud charges. His reelection is going to be difficult.

BREAM: OK, Matthew?

CONTINETTI: My loser first is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar who once again made an anti-Semitic statement and is becoming a real problem for the Democrats. And my winner is the young man who goes by the name Hallway Pizza Guy. You can see him in the background there enjoying a slice in the Cohen hearing. And then look at his face. His expression is priceless. But he realizes he is on camera. There he is. So congratulations Hallway Pizza Guy.

BREAM: That is fantastic. Listen, I was an intern on the Hill many, many years ago. You take your snacks and your meals where you can get them. But we want to know who you are. Tell us Pizza Guy, speak to us. Thanks, guys.

When we come back, "Notable Quotables."


BREAM: Finally tonight, "Notable Quotables."


REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: You want an emergency? We have an emergency.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: Some really big things happened to Otto. He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Strong new reaction coming in from the parents of Otto Warmbier, calling out Kim Jong-un over their son's death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is nonsense. You guys know it. I know it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Talking is definitely better than fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hearings are not for action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Cohen, when you called Donald Trump a cheat in your open testimony, what would you call yourself?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are a pathological liar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not calling him a bunny boiler, but he is a little unbalanced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Donald Trump has more stories than Harry potter.

TRUMP: The relationship was very warm, and when we walked away it was a very friendly walk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will let the ankle biters just bite our ankle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Luckily a really nice lady came in and gave me some pullups because I didn't know what I was going to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politics stops at the water's edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We received word from Governor Newsom that he declared a state of emergency for Sonoma County.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Embattled singer R. Kelly is released from custody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ref made a bad call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The opposition party is flailing and failing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just because I'm not running, I'm not going to keep my mouth shut.

TRUMP: Nothing like having a nice private dinner.


BREAM: A lot has happened in a week. That's it for “Special Report” for tonight. I'm Shannon Bream in Washington. Please join me at 11:00 eastern tonight for "Fox News at Night." We are going to talk to one of the two reporters who worked on an exclusive story about that so called book proposal that Michael Cohen was shopping around before the raid before his arrest and eventual plea deal. It was reportedly glowing. This reporter has seen it. They will tell us what it actually said. That's at 11:00 tonight.

Content and Programming Copyright 2019 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.