Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a prisoner exchange, as the U.S. released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden but carried a heavy price, and some say too heavy.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said from the White House, where he was accompanied by Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and administration officials.
Biden authorized the release of a Russian felon, Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death” for Griner’s release.
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On Thursday, former President Donald Trump took to Truth Social and blasted the Biden admin’s decision, calling it “stupid” and an “unpatriotic embarrassment” for America.
Trump said, “What kind of a deal is it to swap Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our Country, for the man known as “The Merchant of Death,” who is one of the biggest arms dealers anywhere in the World, and responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and horrific injuries. Why wasn’t former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking. What a “stupid” and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!”
Donald Trump Jr. on Thursday criticized Biden for the move as well.
“No one cuts better deals than Biden. We get an awful America Hating WNBA player, while Russia gets AN INTERNATIONAL ARMS DEALER!!! The adults are back!” said Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter.
Griner has been in custody in Russia for 10 months after she was arrested for possession of vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil at a Moscow airport in February. The Phoenix Mercury had traveled to Russia during the WNBA off-season to play in a professional league there.
In August, a Russian court found her guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent by a Russian court on Thursday. She was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined 1 million rubles.
The family of the ex-Marine jailed in Russia since 2021 is “devastated” after he was excluded from the prisoner swap Wednesday that freed basketball star Brittney Griner, according to a statement.
Russian authorities detained Paul Whelan, an ex-marine working as a security contractor, in 2018 on what the U.S. said were fabricated espionage charges and sentenced him in 2020 to 16 years in prison.
While the Biden administration initially attempted to secure the release of both Whelan and Griner for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “merchant of death,” Whelan was not included in Wednesday’s diplomatic exchange.
“Our family is still devastated,” Whelan’s brother, David, said in an emailed statement to CBS News. “I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns, his hopes had soared with the knowledge that the U.S. government was taking concrete steps for once toward his release.”
“This time, US Government officials let us know in advance that Pual would be left behind,” said the statement.
It is likely the U.S. government has little in the way of offerings that would persuade Russia to give up Paul, David Whelan said.