The Biden administration said the decision to bring Brittney Griner home Thursday was “very painful.” Even though a U.S. Marine has been sitting in a Russian prison since 2020, Biden traded a Russian arms dealer for a WNBA “star” who was arrested for bringing illegal drugs into the country. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the decision was not made “lightly. ”
In August, a Russian court sentenced the WNBA player to 9 years in prison for smuggling illegal drugs into the country. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges but hoped the White House would work on a release as soon as possible. Before the sentencing, Biden administration officials offered a prisoner exchange — a Russian arms trafficker, Viktor Bout, for Griner and Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine.
Russian authorities arrested Whelan in 2018 for suspected espionage. He was convicted anyway and sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020. White House officials tried to push for a two-for-one deal with Russia.
Ultimately, Russia backed out of the deal. Moscow previously considered a two-for-two deal with the release of Vadim Krasikov, who murdered an American citizen and Bout. Russia proposed the deal for Griner and Whalen; they wanted Bout and Krasikov. But after negotiations, Moscow informed U.S. officials they would only trade Griner for Bout.
KJP: "It was either bringing Brittney [Griner] home, or no one at all." pic.twitter.com/1DbffvcQ6t
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) December 8, 2022
One Biden official said, “It was a choice between bringing home one particular American, Brittney Griner, or bringing home none.” Biden’s press secretary echoed that statement when she said, “It was either bringing Brittney home or no one at all.”
Many observers slammed the decision. Thousands of retweets on Twitter said the choice should have been no one. Former President Donald Trump called the deal an “embarrassment” and “unpatriotic.” Whelan worries he won’t make it home in time to assist his parents in their old age or see his 14-year-old dog pass — he is worried he won’t come home at all.