Two members of President Donald Trump’s outside legal team declared on Thursday that three American hostages held in North Korea would soon be released, a surprising disclosure from lawyers who work outside the White House and whose positions ostensibly do not overlap with U.S. foreign policy.
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at her Thursday briefing that, to the best of her knowledge, Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow were not involved in efforts to secure the Americans’ release. Asked why they would comment on the potential release of Americans held in North Korea, Sanders told reporters: “That’s a question you’d have to ask them. I don’t speak for people on the outside.”
Reached for comment, Sekulow said he was commenting only on reports that the prisoners’ release was imminent. Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reuters and other media outlets reported on Thursday that the U.S. was looking into reports that the three prisoners, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Sang-duk and Kim Hak Song, had been moved from a labor camp to a hotel near Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. The reporting cited anonymous sources and has not been verified by POLITICO.
While the prisoners’ fate has yet to be officially confirmed, Giuliani, a friend of Trump’s who joined the president’s legal team last month, said on Thursday on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that “we got Kim Jong Un impressed enough to be releasing three prisoners today.” Sekulow, who until Giuliani’s emergence had been the most public face of Trump’s legal team, teased a link to his daily radio show with a tweet reading “BREAKING: Release of #NorthKorean Hostages Imminent.”
Sanders, who said in her own “Fox & Friends” interview on Thursday that the White House was “cautiously optimistic” about ongoing talks with North Korea, stopped short of offering the type of confirmation that the president’s attorneys issued earlier in the day.
“We can’t confirm the validity of any of the reports currently out about their release,” she said, “but we certainly would see this as a sign of good will if North Korea were to release the three Americans ahead of discussions between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.”