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Freed journalist told sister ‘it had to be Clinton’

During a phone call to her family in July from her captivity, now-freed journalist Laura Ling said that North Korean officials would be willing to grant amnesty to the journalists if Bill Clinton took part in the process. “The phones were closely monitored, and things were very obviously being communicated through her,” Ling’s sister and fellow journalist told TODAY Friday. “She very clear
/ Source: TODAY contributor

During a phone call to her family in July from her captivity, now-freed journalist Laura Ling said that North Korean officials would be willing to grant amnesty to the journalists if Bill Clinton took part in the process.

“The phones were closely monitored, and things were very obviously being communicated through her,” Ling’s sister and fellow journalist told TODAY Friday. “She very clearly stated it had to be President Clinton.”

Details coming slowly

Having spent weeks not speaking to anyone while confined, Laura has not yet shared many details of her ordeal, her sister said. “Even getting sentences out is challenging, because she’s not used to talking as much,” Lisa Ling said Friday in a telephone interview with Meredith Vieira on TODAY. “So we’re just taking things very, very easy with her.”

While Laura is still weak and traumatized, she said “it’s nothing that home can’t cure,” her sister added. Three days after their release from North Korea, details about the capture and 140-day confinement of American journalists Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, are beginning to emerge, but Lisa Ling said she wants her sister to be able to tell her own story.

Ling and Lee were granted just four phone calls to the United States. It was during her last call in July, Lisa told Vieira, that Laura communicated the message about the former president. Lisa said the families jumped into action and called former Vice President Al Gore, Ling and Lee’s boss at Current TV, who helped arrange Clinton’s trip to North Korea.

Both journalists were pardoned following meetings between Clinton and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and they returned home Aug. 5. The confined women didn’t know those negotiations were going on though, Lisa Ling said.

“Thirty hours before, they were sitting in a facility and they truly, truly thought they would be sent to a labor prison camp imminently,” she said.

12-year sentence

Euna Lee and Laura Ling were working on a story in China about the trafficking of women when they were arrested March 19 for crossing the North Korean border. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after being convicted of illegally entering North Korea. Lisa Ling told CNN that the women spent about 30 seconds on Korean soil.

Seeing her sister and Lee emerge Wednesday onto the tarmac at Bob Hope International Airport in Burbank, Calif., was just “so surreal and beautiful,” Ling told Vieira. “It’s one of the most glorious sights I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Laura Ling pumped her fists in the air as she left the private plane of Hollywood mogul Steve Bing and was reunited with her family and husband, Iain Clayton. After getting off the plane, Lee wept and hugged her husband, Michael Saldate, and 4-year-old daughter, Hana.

The pleasure of pizza

Ling and Lee are weak and exhausted, but are slowly recovering from their ordeal. Ling suffers from ulcers, and Lee lost 15 pounds while in captivity.

The women have said very little so far about their time in captivity, but they rarely saw each other. Lisa Ling told CNN Laura read a lot of books and walked around her room for exercise for hours a day. Bathing was difficult because there was no hot water, and she was monitored 24 hours a day by North Korean guards who did not speak English.

Now that Euna Lee is home, her 4-year-old daughter, Hana, won’t let her mother out of her sight. 

Ling said that the two families got together Thursday night for dinner, where the women ate pizza for the first time since returning to America.

“They really just delighted in it,” Lisa told the TODAY show. “And Hana, I have never seen her so happy … It was remarkable to see.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.