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Otto Warmbier’s mother to introduce Nikki Haley at Charleston campaign launch event

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

When Nikki Haley opens her presidential campaign on Wednesday she will be joined by Cindy Warmbier, whose son died days after he was released from North Korean prison in 2017.

While many American voters wait to see how the Republican primary shakes out before picking a candidate, Warmbier is already all in.

Warmbier credits Haley with giving her the strength to continue fighting against the North Korean regime after the death of her 22-year-old son, Otto. She will tell her story on stage in Charleston, South Carolina, just minutes before Haley launches her presidential campaign.

“I said, ‘It’s impossible to fight North Korea,'” Warmbier said of her conversation with the then-US ambassador to the United Nations when they met in 2018.

“Well, you have to,” Warmbier recalls Haley telling her. “She says, ‘You have to stand up to these bullies, these bad guys, because if you don’t they view it as a sign of weakness.'”

Warmbier had admired Haley’s determination when it came to North Korea sanctions and asked for the meeting when she was in Washington, DC, for then-President Donald Trump‘s State of the Union address.

“It took someone like Nikki Haley to light the fire under me,” Warmbier said in an exclusive interview with CNN. “She took me out of that survival mode and put me in a fighter mode.”

The anecdote underscores Haley’s fierce approach to authoritarians, which is a part of the former US diplomat’s identity that she wants to highlight as she introduces herself as a presidential candidate.

“China and Russia are on the march. They all think we can be bullied, kicked around. You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies and when you kick back it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels,” Haley said in a video announcing her 2024 White House bid on Tuesday.

‘I’m speaking for her’

Otto Warmbier visited North Korea in January 2016 with a travel group made up of other college students, but was stopped in security as he tried to depart from Pyongyang’s airport. According to the North Korean government, he was detained because he had stolen a political poster.

For his alleged crime, Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. In the end, he spent 17 months in North Korea before being released as part of a deal brokered by the Trump administration.

When Warmbier returned to the US, he was in a comatose state and died in a hospital in his home state of Ohio.

Following her son’s death, Cindy Warmbier received advice from some who urged her to just take care of herself. But it was Haley’s spirit of dogged determination that inspired her.

“I don’t want to be viewed as the victim. You know, I’ve survived. And because of Nikki Haley, I’m thriving. I’m here. I’m speaking for her. And I really believe in her campaign,” Warmbier said.

Haley and Warmbier have developed a close personal relationship, trading texts and emails over the years. Haley wrote about the Warmbiers in her book “With all Due Respect,” in which she also touts her efforts on North Korea sanctions.

“We passed three separate and strong packages of sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear program. That meant doing what has never been done before, bringing China along,” Haley wrote. “By the end of my term as ambassador, we had sanctioned North Korea more harshly than any country in a generation.”

While Trump was critical of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un in the immediate aftermath of Otto Warmbier’s death, he said he did not hold the North Korean dictator responsible during their second meeting.

“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said at the time. “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 comments prompted Warmbier’s parents to clearly state that Kim and his “evil regime” were responsible for the death of their son.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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