Last Updated on December 8, 2022
The Biden Administration has been asked a number of questions and faced criticism after WNBA star Brittney Griner was swapped for a notorious Russian arms dealer who was convicted in connection with a plot to kill American citizens. The Biden White House has been asked why Griner was prioritized over former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has also been incarcerated by Russia. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the swap at a briefing on Thursday, stating that Russia would only agree to swap Griner, not Whelan.
The Biden Administration struck a deal with Russia that freed Brittney Griner in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Griner was arrested in Russia on February 17 and later sentenced to nine years in a penal colony after she attempted to board a plane with marijuana. Bout was serving a 25-year sentence stemming from a plot to kill American citizens, among other things.
Bout is a former Soviet military officer who made millions trafficking top-grade military weapons — including anti-aircraft weapons — to state and non-state actors for two decades. He was eventually arrested in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation and convicted in a U.S. court in 2012 for supplying weapons to a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill Americans.
Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked Karine Jean-Pierre why a WNBA player was exchanged for such a dangerous individual, especially when another high-profile prisoner, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is still imprisoned.
“Why did Russia get such a better deal?” Doocy asked. “I’ve talked about this and I’ll say this again, here were our choices. Our choices [were] Brittany or no one at all. Bringing home one American or no American at all,” Jean-Pierre replied.
“In bringing home a professional athlete, we gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans who’s called the ‘Merchant of Death,’” Doocy pushed back.
“The professional athlete is also an American citizen, so let’s not forget that who deserved, and I’ve explained how the Russians have illegally treated, totally illegitimately, treated his situation,” she said. “I’ve been very clear on that, we’ve laid that out for you and again, the president felt that this was an opportunity to bring Brittany home. He is going to do everything he can to bring Paul Whelan home just like he did with Trevor Reed. Just like he was able to secure Trevor Reed’s release.”
The press secretary then praised the administration’s efforts to bring Griner home, and pledged that the government is doing everything possible to bring Whelan home as well. She stressed that this was “not possible” at this time, however.
Mr. Whelan’s family has been critical of the Biden Administration’s efforts to bring Paul home.