I must admit that I expected the former mouth of Park Geun-hye to have more loyalty to his team. But based on his press conference, Yoon Chang-joong will not quietly fall on the sword–he apparently wants to take the Blue House down with him.
First, let us recap on the timeline of events as we thought we knew, before Yoon’s presser. In the evening of May 7, Yoon was drinking alone with the female intern for the Korean embassy at a hotel bar. After drinking, he groped the young woman’s buttocks. She managed to defuse the situation by bringing a friend. Later that night/early morning, Yoon summoned the intern to his room. When she refused, Yoon screamed insults over the phone. When the intern did come to the room, Yoon answered the door in his underwear. Humiliated, the intern left the room, and after discussing with her fellow interns at the Embassy, she called the police on the morning of May 8.
Upon learning somehow that the police was coming, Yoon told the Blue House staff that his wife was gravely ill, took a cab straight to the Dulles Airport and took the first flight to Seoul. The Blue House staff did not realize exactly what happened until Yoon was in the air. Upon learning that Yoon may have been involved in a sexual assault, and he lied to the staff, the Blue House decided to fire him.
Earlier today, Yoon Chang-joong gave a press conference, and according to him, a lot of details are different. He claimed that he was not drinking alone with the woman, as a driver for the Embassy was present as well. He claims that he “tapped” in the waist area of the intern, “as a manner of encouragement.” Yoon claims that he did not summon the intern. He did not know who was at the door when there was a knock. Because he thought it might have been an important document delivery, he answered the door in a hurry and mostly naked. When he saw the intern, according him, Yoon said, “why are you here?” and closed the door.
Then Yoon’s story got even more interesting. He claimed that the next day, May 8, he met with Lee Nam-ki, the chief of public relations. According to Yoon, Lee already knew about the allegations of the sexual assault, and told Yoon to go back to Korea immediately. Yoon apparently wanted to claim his innocence in the U.S., but Lee told Yoon that there is a flight reserved for Yoon. Yoon then went to the airport, paid for the ticket with his own credit card, and got on the flight. Yoon was asked if he was willing to travel to U.S. to be investigated. He left the press conference without answering that question.
If you are keeping score, there are three major areas of discrepancy:
(1) Factual details around the drinking and sexual assault
In this area, it is highly likely that Yoon Chang-joong blatantly lying, but here it is for the humor value. Yoon claimed that he only “tapped” the woman, and also said: “I beg for understanding, and offer my apologies, if I hurt her because of cultural differences. I did not act with any sexual intent.” Naturally, the reporters asked a follow-up question, which led to this gem of an exchange:
“You said it was cultural difference. Do you mean to say this behavior would have been acceptable in Korea?”
“No, it would not be acceptable.”
“Then how is it cultural difference?”
“I should have apologized at that point. It was my fault for not recognizing that I did something wrong.”
Yoon also claimed that the driver was present at all times, but the Korean Embassy said that the driver had left earlier in the night.
(2) When did Blue House and the President know?
Previously, the Blue House claimed that it only learned the incident after Yoon was on the airplane, and reported the incident to President Park Geun-hye right away. But Yoon claimed that the Blue House already knew by the time its PR Chief spoke with him. Yoon additionally claimed that he never said anything about his wife being ill.
Lee Nam-ki, the press chief, basically went back on the previous Blue House position and admitted that he spoke with Yoon before he left. Lee said that he received a report on the incident on the morning of May 8. Lee claimed, however, that he was just about to head to Congress, where the president was to give her address. Because Lee was rushed for time, Lee told Yoon to discuss with other staff members. Then, according to the Blue House version of the story, Yoon spoke with Jeon Gwang-sam, the senior PR officer. Jeon told Yoon that there were two options–be investigated in the U.S., or be investigated in Korea, and Yoon chose to return to Korea.
What is more, Lee did not report the incident to the president until the morning of May 9, full 24 hours after he spoke with Yoon Chang-joong. Lee also essentially admitted that Yoon did not say anything about his wife being ill, as he said the staff might have been mistaken when the staff said Yoon told them he had to leave because of his wife’s illness.
So the Blue House suffered some credibility damage here as well. A high-ranking official knew all about the incident pretty much as soon as it happened, yet–even if we take Lee Nam-ki’s story at face value–allowed Yoon to leave. The PR Chief did not report to the president for 24 hours, and the staff lied to the press about why Yoon had to leave. But it gets better.
(3) Did Blue House tell Yoon to leave?
Yoon claims that the Blue House–specifically Lee Nam-ki–essentially ordered him to leave, and reserved the flight ticket for him, although Yoon protested that he wanted to stay in the U.S. and prove his innocence. Jeon Gwang-sam, the senior PR officer, says he gave Yoon a choice, and Yoon chose to leave. There are also conflicting stories about who booked Yoon’s flight. While there is no dispute that Yoon paid for the flight, Yoon claims that the staff reserved the flight for him. The staff denies this.
Frankly, it is not clear if Blue House looks good in either case. The Blue House was already aware that Yoon was a subject of an active investigation, yet Yoon took the next flight out. The staff had Yoon in its hold, so does it really matter if Yoon chose to leave, or the staff told him to leave?
Will be highly interesting to see the blowback on this issue.