WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) – WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from Russian custody after 10 long months behind bars.
She was sentenced to nine years over marijuana vape cartridges she says were medically-prescribed and accidentally packed on a trip to Russia.
President Biden said, “Brittany will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and, and she should have been there all along. This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time.”
The Biden administration secured Griner’s release in a prisoner exchange for the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
But they were unable to bring home another American: former Marine Paul Whelan who U.S. officials say is also wrongly detained in Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none.”
Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence after being accused of spying, which the U.S. denies.
Sources familiar say Russia is refusing to release Whelan without getting a Russian spy in return. U.S. is insisting it doesn’t have any in custody.
The administration vowed to keep fighting for Whelan.
His brother, David Whelan, though deeply disappointed, commended the move to bring Griner home.
David said, “I think President Biden made the right decision. His job is to protect all Americans.”
Some Republican lawmakers are slamming the deal. Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) said, “We traded a basketball player for a known terrorist, a criminal.”
There are mixed emotions as one American family is made whole while others still wait and hope.
Brittney Griner’s wife promised they would join the fight to bring home Whelan and other Americans wrongly held overseas.
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