Manage episode 349232706 series 2772580
YOU MUST CELEBRATE Brittney Griner being released and NOT THINK about Who we GAVE UP
President Joe Biden had already personally informed Cherelle Griner that her wife was being released from Russian detention when aides arrived with more news: Brittney Griner was now securely out of Russia – and on the telephone.
“It’s Joe Biden,” the president said when the call was patched through. “Welcome, welcome home!”
Nearly ten months after Brittney Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport, the jubilant moment in the Oval Office on Thursday amounted to the culmination of prolonged, frustrating negotiations and one painful decision that left another detained American disappointed and wondering what his fate may be.
In conversations across an array of government channels, Russian officials were clear with their American counterparts: they would release Griner – and only Griner – in exchange for a convicted Russian arms dealer nicknamed the “merchant of death.”
Because of the matter’s exceedingly high profile, it was certain those conditions had been set by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, one US official said.
Despite Biden’s attempts to link Griner’s case to that of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine arrested on espionage charges in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison two years later, it became plain recently that Putin would not budge.
“The choice was bringing Brittney Griner home right now, or bringing no one home right now,” one senior administration official said.
Exclusive: Paul Whelan tells CNN he is 'disappointed' that more has not been done to secure his release
With winter approaching at the penal colony where Griner was being held, Biden faced a singularly presidential decision. Welcoming Griner home would fulfill a promise and end the nightmare endured by her and her family.
But any victory would be tempered by the inability to secure Whelan’s freedom and inevitable blowback over the release of one the most prolific arms dealers of the past decades.
The situation was complicated further when senior law enforcement officials, angry at the prospect of releasing a notorious figure it had taken years to capture and alarmed by the precedent Bout’s release would set, raised strong objections.
Biden took the deal.
“Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and – and she should have been there all along,” the president said from the Roosevelt Room, where he was joined by Griner’s wife. “This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time.”
Moments earlier in Abu Dhabi, Griner had stepped from h