President Donald Trump welcomed Josh Holt home in an oval office gathering Saturday. Josh was joined by his wife Thamy, daughter Marian and parents Jason and Laurie.
“I just want to welcome you to the Oval Office, welcome you to the White House. It’s, really, very special to have you both,” the president said. “You’ve gone through a lot. You’ve gone through a lot — more than most people could endure.”
The White House thanked the Maduro regime for Josh’s release in a statement Saturday but said that it did not change U.S. policy on Venezuela.
“The Maduro regime must call free, fair, and transparent elections, consistent with its constitution,” the statement read. “The election process that occurred on May 20 was illegitimate. The regime must allow all Venezuelans and political parties to participate freely in new elections and the democratic process. It must release all political prisoners and must accept desperately needed international humanitarian aid for Venezuela’s dying citizens.”
Mr. Holt is the 17th prisoner released from foreign captivity during the Trump administration, many of which were imprisoned during the Obama presidency.
“We’ve had 17 prisoners released during the Trump administration,” President Trump said. “You remember Aya. We called the President of Egypt, and he released her. She was there for a long time — three years. And the previous administration was unable to get her out. A fantastic young woman. And she was released.”
Josh was imprisoned three years ago when he flew to Venezuela to marry his wife, Thamy. Soldiers planted automatic rifles and a grenade in his hotel room and arrested him as a terrorist.
Mr. Holt is a Mormon missionary, but the Maduro regime attempted to paint him as a U.S. spy. More likely, they had hoped to use him in negotiations to relieve increasing pressure from the United States.
Watch: President Trump’s remarks on freed American
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, everybody. This is a great honor tonight. It is very special. We have, as you know, Josh Holt and his wife Thamy. And they came back from a very tough ordeal in a Venezuelan prison. Almost two years, Josh. And, you know, amazing that you were able to take it.
Your daughter Marian is here, and your parents, Jason and Laurie. And you went through a lot. And you were in there fighting all the way.
And I want to thank Bob Corker. Great job you did over there. Great job. And I want to thank Mike Lee. And, Mia, you’ve been — every time I’d see Mia, she’d talk about you, Josh. (Laughter.) She’d say, “What about Josh?” I said, “What about something else? Can we talk about something else?” (Laughter.) She was always doing it. And Orrin Hatch is a legend, as you know. He’s a legend in the Senate and in this country. And, Orrin, you were great.
So, Bob, Mike, Mia, Orrin — I want to thank you very much.
So we’ve had 17 prisoners released during the Trump administration. Most people don’t know that. You remember Aya. We called the President of Egypt, and he released her. She was there for a long time — three years. And the previous administration was unable to get her out. A fantastic young woman. And she was released.
As you know, in North Korea, we just had a very great success. We have three wonderful people — Americans — that were released just recently. And they’re now home, safe with their families.
And you were a tough one, I have to tell you. That was a tough situation. But we’ve had 17 released, and we’re very proud of that record. Very proud. And we have others coming. We’re in the midst of some very big negotiations to get others out. In most cases, they’re Americans, but we can try and help other countries too, where there’s injustice. So we’ve been working very hard on it.
But I just want to welcome you to the Oval Office, welcome you to the White House. It’s, really, very special to have you both. You’ve gone through a lot. You’ve gone through a lot — more than most people could endure.
I want to thank your parents for being such loving parents. You were really very, very special. You were fighting all the way. There was not a day that — there wasn’t an hour or a minute that you weren’t thinking about this man and calling everybody, and letting us know. And we are all, as a group, very happy.
The State Department has been fantastic. Where are my guys from the State Department? Where are they?
SENATOR CORKER: John Sullivan —
THE PRESIDENT: We have John — John Sullivan. You guys were really fantastic. Look at all those people that work at the State Department. You’re probably surprised to see that.
But maybe I’d like to ask the parents, your great parents, if you have something to say before — I’d like to get to the senators, and I’d like to get to you, Mia, and ask you also. But could I start with the parents?
MRS. LAURIE HOLT: I just want to say thank-you to you, personally, for everything that you’ve done, as well as the State Department. But all of you, I just can’t even tell you. I’ve grown to love Senator Hatch and Mia so much. Not everybody gets to talk to Senator Hatch and Mia Love. And when everything happened last week, Mia was the one that answered her phone and was the one that got things rolling with Senator Hatch to save Josh. And it was —
THE PRESIDENT: I’ve never seen Mia cry before.
MRS. LAURIE HOLT: It was a horrifying, horrifying week. And she got me through it, with Senator Hatch. I just — Senator Hatch’s office, I cannot tell you how much I love all of your staff. So thank you, thank you.
And I also want to say thank-you to President Maduro for releasing Josh and letting him come home.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s very nice. Pop, do you want to say something?
JASON HOLT: She pretty much said everything. That’s why I let the pretty face take care of this kind of stuff. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s good. That’s very smart. You’re smart.
Josh, would you like to say something?
JOSHUA HOLT: I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude for you guys, for everything that you’ve done; for the support of my wife through those two years. They were a very, very, very difficult two years. Not really the great vacation that I was looking for. But we’re still together. Starting off a marriage rough, but now we’re going to be together.
And I’m just so grateful for what you guys have done and for thinking about me, and caring about me, just a normal person. So it really touches me. And thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: You’ve been very brave, actually. You’ve been incredibly brave. We saw what was happening inside of that prison. So you really have been very, very brave.
Bob Corker, would you like to say something? Great job.
SENATOR CORKER: Well, thank you. We’re just glad to have you home. A lot of people have worked for a long time to make this happen. And I want to thank everyone at the State Department. In particular, I want to thank Caleb McCarry, who knows this area more than probably anybody in the United States. He’s here with me today.
THE PRESIDENT: Where’s Caleb? Caleb, are you back there?
MCCARRY: I’m back here, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Come on over here, Caleb. (Applause.) Fantastic. Fantastic job. That is really great.
SENATOR CORKER: It was quite an experience, that we could almost write a book about just the last 48 hours. But we’re glad — we were actually, Mr. President, taking off on the runway — nothing in Venezuela happens quite in the same way that it happens here. And we were going down the runway, and they turned the engines off. And we turned around. So we still weren’t sure we were leaving until —
THE PRESIDENT: What happened? Why did they do that?
SENATOR CORKER: There was an instrument issue that occurred, but we finally — we got out of there. And obviously, Josh had a huge smile on his face, and when he landed he did.
THE PRESIDENT: Probably the only time that anybody was ever happy that there was a bad instrument on an airplane. (Laughter.) That was a better alternative than going back.
SENATOR CORKER: I do want to say there were people that we worked with down there that I do hope at the right time you will have the chance to thank. There are people who really want to try to affect the relationship in a good way. And it was — they were very helpful to us in getting him out of there. I know you talked to one of them last night on the phone when I was having dinner with him, and I appreciate you doing so.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s great. That’s really great. And, you know, we have Pastor Brunson, a wonderful Christian pastor, and he’s right now in Turkey. He’s been there a long time. And they say he’s a spy, but he’s not a spy. And we’re going to all work, and we’ve been working for his release. He’s having a hard time. There’s a trial going on, but the trial is not so much of a trial. And we’re talking to the folks in Turkey about doing something about it.
But, Pastor Brunson — I hope you can hear us — we’ll be helping you at some point. We’ve been working on it for a while. He’s been there a long time, and he’s a totally innocent man.
Mike Lee, would you like to say something?
SENATOR LEE: Sure. I just want to thank all those who have been involved in this — to Senator Corker, Senator Hatch, Representative Love, to Caleb, to the State Department, everyone who’s been involved. Josh, I want to wish you a warm welcome home. We’ve missed you and we’ve prayed for you.
And, Marian and Thamy, welcome to our country, which is now your country.
Quisiera extender una bienvenida a ustedes, a nuestro país que ahora es su país — nuestro país.
MARIAN CALENO: Gracias.
THE PRESIDENT: Very good. Oh, you understood that beautifully. That’s very good. Good job. Good job.
Orrin Hatch, Senator, spectacular man — please.
SENATOR HATCH: Mr. President, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you. As you know, I was the one guy who really supported you 100 percent.
THE PRESIDENT: Very early.
SENATOR HATCH: And I do now. I think you’re doing a terrific job, and this shows why we support you. You actually — this was — and I have to say, these folks did a great job. I was really thrilled with the way Bob handled himself. Caleb and others did such a great job. We have good people working with us. And the folks in this delegation all very sincerely wanted to get Josh out of there. And the parents are just as good of people as I’ve ever met in my life. And you better really live a good life. (Laughter.) That’s all I can say.
But this wouldn’t have happened without you. We just want you to know that — and when you look back over your tenure in the presidency, this is just one of the many great things you’re doing. But it’s really a great thing. And to know that we can rely on you and count on you, and talk to you, and meet with you — these are all very important things. We love you, boy, and we just want to support you every way we can.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. That’s very nice. I appreciate it. And you’ve all been very supportive, but I really appreciate that. That’s very nice. I thank you very much.
SENATOR HATCH: And I thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mia?
REPRESENTATIVE LOVE: I’ve been thinking about what I was going to say today. And it’s been an emotional day. But so many Utah families send their families out, send their sons and daughters out for maybe a year and a half to two years, and they want to know that they’ve got — if something happens to their children, that they’ve got someone, or the United States will have their back.
And I don’t think that there is a person in the United States right now that doesn’t realize that you have their back. And I so wanted to personally thank you for keeping a promise that you made to me. Every time I would go and see you, I would bring up Joshua’s name, and you would say, “I’m going to do everything I can.” And obviously, I believe it.
I also wanted to say to Josh that your mom never let us forget about you. That is one of — she is one of the strongest women I know. And we have started a friendship that has been — that started through maybe some heartache and some pain, but we are going to be friends forever because of the bond that we have had.
And so I just wanted to say, sincerely, that we are with you. Utah has been praying for you and so happy that you’re coming home. And Utah wants to thank you, Mr. President, for making this happen. We wouldn’t have been able to do this —
THE PRESIDENT: That’s very nice.
REPRESENTATIVE LOVE: — without you. Everybody here — Senator Hatch, Mike Lee, Bob Corker — I mean, the State Department — we all worked together to make this happen. And, you know, you don’t know us, but we know you very well, Joshua, and we welcome you home.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mia. It is true, though. Every time I’d see Mia, I’d say, “Look, don’t mention the name ‘Joshua Holt’. We’re working. We’re doing it.” But she didn’t forget. She was out there pitching, as was Bob, as was Mike, as was Orrin. I mean, we really had a great team. That’s a strong nucleus right there, but we had a great team. Great job.
I just want to mention, we’re doing very well in terms of the summit with North Korea. It looks like it’s going along very well. As you know, there are meetings going on as we speak, in a certain location, which I won’t name. But you’d like the location; it’s not so far away from here.
And I think there’s a lot of goodwill. I think people want to see if we can get the meeting and get something done. If we got that done, and if we can be successful in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it would be a great thing for North Korea, it would be a great thing for South Korea. It would be great for Japan and great for the world; great for the United States, great for China. A lot of people are working on it. It’s moving along very nicely.
So we’re looking at June 12th in Singapore. That hasn’t changed. And it’s moving along pretty well. So we’ll see what happens.
Thank you all very much. We appreciate it. Congratulations.
Q Have you heard from Kim?
Q Was anything exchanged? Sanctions relief? Any promises?
Q Have you heard about the talks between Moon and Kim?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Those talks have gone very well.
Q Talks have gone well?
THE PRESIDENT: They’ve gone very well. We’re fully abreast.
Q Have you spoken with Kim?
THE PRESIDENT: The talks have gone very, very well.
Q Have you communicated directly with him?
THE PRESIDENT: I’d rather not say. But the talks have gone very well.
Thank you very much, everybody.