John Kirby's Latest Justification for Lopsided Griner/Bout Deal Defies Belief

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby made the rounds of the shows on Sunday, primarily to defend the administration’s lopsided deal with Russia to swap basketball player Brittney Griner for the “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout.


They’ve been getting a lot of fire over the release, even from fellow Democrats like Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who essentially said Vladimir Putin got what he wanted from Joe Biden, and all Americans are in greater danger because of it.

“To be clear, Ms. Griner should have been released immediately and unconditionally a long time ago. Putin has known that all along. This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize we have a serious problem with hostage-taking of Americans. The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griners of the world and people like Viktor Bout, the so-called ‘Merchant of Death.’ Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision. We must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips, and we must try to do better at encouraging American citizens against traveling to places like Russia where they are primary targets for this type of unlawful detention.[“]

But when Kirby went on ABC, it didn’t go well. ABC’s Martha Raddatz hit him with the Menendez criticism, and that a lot of Americans were thinking that they “just weren’t tough enough” in making the deal.


Kirby said other people weren’t on the phone. He’s right. If we were, we’d probably know more about how they screwed it up/what other deals may have been on the table. But all we can tell at this point is the result, which while it gets Griner out, leaves us in a very bad position, and endangers who knows how many people in the future. It was always possible to get her out — if you were willing to cave completely to Vladimir Putin, give him what he wanted, and violate the basic principle of not trading for hostages/detainees. When he was asked about that principle by Fox’s Martha MacCallum, Kirby said, “that ship has sailed.” In other words, they’re not paying attention to it anymore.

But, what was stunning was Kirby tried to justify it by saying oh, well, Bout was going to get out anyway. Raddatz pointed out that wasn’t for “a long time” — another six years. By this token, why lock any terrorist or anyone up? He’s just going to get out anyway. That’s an insane take, and it’s incredible that he took such a tack. You want to have people like this locked up for as long as you possibly can. “We’re going to protect our national security,” Kirby claimed — after making a move that was counter to that security.


Kirby said the same thing on Fox. But he also said they made a “national security risk assessment” and decided whatever risk there was, was “manageable.”

How many dead people in the future count as “manageable,” in the Biden team’s assessment? Given all the decisions they have made so far, one doesn’t have much confidence in their ability to assess anything.

Fox’s Shannon Bream then asked why American teacher Marc Fogel wasn’t part of the conversation; he’d been held since 2021, longer than Griner, and was given a longer sentence of 14 years, just for having medical marijuana in his luggage. Kirby was unable to explain that, saying there were “some constraints on what we can say.”


Yes, the “constraints” are that he wasn’t a “celebrity” who checked off the boxes to make him a priority like Griner. Even if you make the argument that getting Whelan out was a different question, why wasn’t Fogel thrown into the deal when it was so uneven–if you were going to violate the basic rule of not negotiating with/over terrorists?


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