Brittney Griner Release: Family of U.S. Marine Left Behind in Russia Supports Swap for WNBA Star

The decision to release Bout, the Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of  Death" whose clients have included Moammar Gadhafi, drew criticism from some.

Brittney Griner is heading home.

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday morning that his administration brokered a deal with Russian authorities that allowed for the release of Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout.

The decision to release Bout, the Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of  Death" whose clients have included the late Moammar Gadhafi, drew criticism from some.

"Americans welcome the release of Brittney Griner, but it shouldn’t have come at the cost of releasing one of the world’s worst arms dealers and creating a dangerous precedent for our enemies: detain Americans and Democrats will agree to set your worst killers free," Republican senator Tom Cotton said in a statement.

Cotton also took issue with the fact that this deal "left behind Paul Whelan, a Marine veteran who’s languishing in a Russian jail cell on trumped-up charges."

Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, that the U.S. says are false, after being arrested in 2018 while in Russia for a friend's wedding.

His brother David Whelan released a statement on Thursday, saying in part: "The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen."

In that same statement, David said that the family had been able to "mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us" after being informed of Griner's release before the press.

"It is so important to me that it is clear that we do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom," David noted. "As I have often remarked, Brittney's and Paul's cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other."

Two former presidents also weighed in on the events of the day: Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

"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," Trump said on Truth Social.

Obama had a much different take on the situation, writing on Twitter: "Grateful for the long-overdue release of Brittney Griner today from Russian custody. Kudos to @POTUS  and his administration for the difficult diplomatic work involved to make it happen. We’re looking forward to having Brittney back home."

Griner's arrest happened back in February. The WNBA star played for the Russian team UMMC Yekaterinburg, and had flown over to start practicing when authorities detained her at a Moscow-area airport.

The Russian Federal Customs Service later claimed that vape cartridges filled with hashish oil were found in Griner's luggage. 

Griner stood trial in August, where prosecutors accused her of attempting to smuggle drugs into the country. That trial ended in a conviction, and a prison sentence of nine years.

An attempt to appeal the trial in October had been rejected by authorities, and since November, Griner had been in a Russian penal colony.


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