One of New Jersey's freshman representatives has stepped into the national spotlight, over President Donald Trump's recent comments that stirred new controversy over who is to blame for the 2017 death of 22-year-old American Otto Warmbier.

Warmbier had been visiting North Korea with a tour group when he was detained. A court there sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for the alleged offense of stealing a propaganda poster. The University of Virginia student was returned home in a vegetative state and died in June 2017. His parents say he was tortured.

During the recent summit between the US and North Korea, President Donald Trump said he took North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at his word that he was unaware at the brutal mistreatment of Warmbier.

Democrat Rep. Tom Malinowski, from New Jersey's 7th congressional district, on Friday tweeted he will be "introducing a bipartisan resolution affirming that Congress holds Kim Jong Un responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier."

The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell that Trump's statement was part of a "disgraceful pattern to instinctively side with powerful men accused of moral transgressions. In this case bringing more pain to family that has suffered too much pain."

When the president "fails to say the right thing on behalf of our country the Congress has to step up and do its duty together," Malinowski said.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who have been supportive of Trump in the past, said "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," they said. "No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

Trump backtracked on Twitter on Friday, where he said "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 President also said the previous Administration "did nothing" and said "Of course I hold North Korea responsible."

Trump then again spoke about the controversy during a more than two hour speech at the Conservative Political Action conference on Saturday. "I'm in such a horrible position because in one way I have to negotiate. In the other way, I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier and I love Otto. And it's a very, very delicate balance," Trump said.

In the same speech, the President told the crowd that he was "off-script" and dropped profanity in describing political opponents have been trying "to take him out with “bull****.”

It's not the first time that a New Jersey delegate to Washington has weighed in amid controversy on who was to 'blame' for a death with ties to both the U.S. and a foreign nation.

In November 2018, President Trump declared strong support for Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite the CIA’s conclusion that Salman had ordered the killing of U.S. resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

NJ U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, co-signed a letter to the President, triggering a federal investigation into Khashoggi's death and who was responsible for it.

On February 8, 2019, Menendez said the adminstration's response fell short of what was required by law. “The Trump administration showed that it is willing to ignore U.S. law in its continued effort to stonewall accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Senator Menendez.

The Senator added he would continue to push for the "President to fully hold accountable those responsible" and to uphold United States laws.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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