WNBA player Brittney Griner, presently entangled with the Russian legal system on drug charges, has, through her representatives, sent a letter to President Biden asking for his help in gaining her release and extradition from Russia. Griner, charged with smuggling vape cartridges containing hashish into the country, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Griner was arrested on February 17th. Since that time, Biden has made no direct statement regarding the matter. Griner’s wife Cherelle (by the way, has anyone taken into consideration that given Russia’s official decidedly dim view of homosexuality maybe that comes into play in this matter?) has stated she’s spoken to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has also spoken to Griner’s wife.
The Biden Administration declared Griner as wrongfully detained in early May. This followed the administration’s assertion to Griner’s Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee that it has been actively working on the matter since March. A phone call between Griner and her wife scheduled for last month did not take place due to what the State Department called a “logistical error.” Griner’s wife was having none of it.
Cherelle initially suspected that she and her wife were unable to connect due to interference on the Russian side. But she told the AP she “was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up” when she eventually learned that the phone Griner repeatedly dialed at the US Embassy in Moscow had not been staffed.
“We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error,” a State Department spokesperson told Insider. “We have no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas.”
“We remain in regular contact with the families of those held hostage or wrongfully detained; we are grateful for their partnership and feedback; and we continue to work to ensure we are communicating and sharing information in a way useful to our families,” the spokesperson added.
But for Cherelle, who has repeatedly pleaded for President Joe Biden and his administration to take action on her wife’s behalf, the heartbreaking blunder was enough to demolish any goodwill she had left with American officials.
“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now,” Cherelle told the AP. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”
Imagine that, the Biden Administration bungling something. But I digress.
Griner’s name has come up in conjunction with a potential prisoner swap. The name most commonly bandied about in this regard is Russian arms dealer/smuggler Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” Bout is presently serving a 25-year sentence in an Illinois federal prison after his conviction for conspiracy to kill Americans by providing arms to Colombian rebels. Although Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has publicly stated no such swap can be considered until Griner’s case is resolved, this does not indicate such a deal is off the table. Whether exchanging Griner for Bout is politically palatable given Bout’s crimes is at best debatable.
Although it is tempting to write Griner off as a victim of nothing but her own foolishness, the fact remains she is an American citizen, one who, whether she likes her country or not, has twice represented it as a member of the Olympic women’s basketball team. It is our government’s obligation to work all possible angles toward winning her freedom and her return to this country. It is also well nigh impossible not to believe that had Donald Trump been in office and not Joe Biden at the time of Griner’s arrest, a swift phone call between the Oval Office and the Kremlin would have resulted in Griner catching the first plane home.