The White House said on Monday that the administration will engage with Russia this week to discuss Paul Whelan.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the White House is “bound and determined to ensure that we work through a successful method of securing Paul Whelan’s release at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Although Sullivan acknowledged that, over the last several months, it’s become apparent, “what Russia was asking for to secure Paul Whelan’s release was not something that we had to be able to give.”
“That is a problem we are trying to solve – we have various ways that we are working through solutions, and we will be endeavoring on a daily basis, from the President on down, to finally develop a formula that works,” Sullivan told reporters during Monday’s White House press briefing, citing “the sensitivity of these issues.”
The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden but carried a heavy price.
“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.
According to the AP, the deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad.
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Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
Lawyer Steve Zissou representing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, aka the “Merchant of Death,” said that the United States has “absolutely” nothing to fear following his release.
Speaking to NewsNation on Saturday, Zissou said, “Does the U.S. have anything to fear from him? Absolutely not.”
Bout, 55, was serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and had been convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and supporting a terrorist organization.
Bout was convicted in 2011 on terrorism charges. Prosecutors said he was ready to sell up to $20 million in weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to shoot down U.S. helicopters.
When prosecutors made the claim at his 2012 sentencing, Bout infamously shouted: “It’s a lie!”
For the past ten years, Bout was held in the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. He had been there since June 2012. He was scheduled to be released in 2029.
“They simply woke me up and told me to gather my belongings,” Bout told the Associated Press, referring to the U.S. prison officials in Marion. “They didn’t provide any special information but I understood the situation that was unfolding.”