White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday said that President Donald Trump was aware of the human rights concerns surrounding Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte when he invited him to the White House.
During the White House press briefing, journalists asked Spicer about Duterte encouraging the extrajudicial killings of drug users and his comment that journalists are not exempt from assassination.
That knowledge, Spicer argued, was balanced by Trump wanting to work with Duterte to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power.
“The President gets fully briefed on the leaders that he’s speaking to, obviously,” Spicer said at his daily press briefing when asked if Trump was aware of Duterte’s human rights abuses. “The number one concern of this president is to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our people and specifically to economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea.”
“I’m not gonna tell you every single thing that’s in his brief, but he’s well aware of, when he speaks with a leader, he gets briefed on a lot about what they’re doing, what they’ve done,” Spicer added.
When asked earlier in the briefing about concerns that Trump was giving Duterte’s human rights abuses his stamp of approval, Spicer said the purpose of the White House invitation was to address North Korea.
“I think it is an opportunity for us to work with countries in that region that can help play a role in diplomatically and economically isolating North Korea,” Spicer replied. “And frankly, the national interest of the United States, the safety of our people, and the safety of the people in the region are the number one priorities of the President.”
Later in the briefing, the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush noted that Trump invited Duterte to the White House after praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Does the President have a thing with these totalitarian leaders? Does he admire something about the way these guys conduct themselves?” Thrush asked.
Spicer did not directly answer the question and instead repeated that the purpose of Duterte’s visit would be to discuss North Korea.
“The President, clearly as I’ve said, understands the threat that North Korea poses. Having someone with the potential nuclear capability to strike another country, and potentially our country at some point in the future, is something the President takes very seriously,” Spicer said, adding that the Philippines is just one of the neighbors that could help the U.S.
This post has been updated.