South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un executed lead nuclear negotiator Kim Hyok Chol and four other senior foreign ministry officials in March, in punishment for the failure of February's Hanoi summit with President Trump. South Korea's government and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said they can't or won't confirm the report, which Chosun Ilbo attributed to one unidentified source, but North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper also published an editorial Thursday with specific language it last used after a top official was executed in 2013.
The rumors of a post-summit purge aren't new. ABC News This Week's Jonathan Karl asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the rumored executions on May 5. Pompeo didn't confirm or deny them. "It does appear that the next time we have serious conversations that my counterpart will be someone else, but we don't know that for sure," he said, smiling. "Just as President Trump gets to decide who his negotiators will be, Chairman Kim will get to make his own decisions about who he asks to have these conversations."
It's not clear if the firing squad reports are true, and if so, whether the U.S. knew that three weeks ago. But if Pompeo knew, his response and body language are a little unsettling. "Secretary Pompeo in all likelihood knew when he answered this question that Kim Jong Un had executed and imprisoned his interlocutors," tweeted Ned Price, a former CIA officer and National Security Council spokesman. "His reaction says a lot about who Pompeo is and, more importantly, how he represents America and our values around the world."