WASHINGTON, D.C. – WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was held prisoner for months in Russia on drug possession charges, was released Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout, a trade that some critics – including former President Donald Trump – claimed was far too high a price.
President Biden announced Griner’s return Thursday morning, saying, “She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances.”
In February 2022, Griner – who was entering the country to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season – was arrested on smuggling charges by Russian customs officials after hashish oil was discovered in her baggage. She later pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to nine years, which she was slated to serve in a Russian penal colony.
After months of effort and negotiations, President Biden secured Griner’s release by authorizing a prisoner swap with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans in 2011. Biden cut short Bout’s 25-year sentence after he had only served 10 years and ordered him to be freed and returned home in exchange for Griner.
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Biden’s swap for Griner was criticized by some as too high a price considering the scope of Bout’s crimes, and for the fact that the exchange left retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted four years ago on espionage charges that the U.S. says are false, still a prisoner in Russia serving a 16-year sentence.
Among the most prominent critics of the Griner swap was Donald Trump, who blasted the exchange on his Truth Social platform as ”stupid” and “unpatriotic.”
“What kind of a deal is it to swap Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our Country, for the man known as “The Merchant of Death,” who is one of the biggest arms dealers anywhere in the World, and responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and horrific injuries,” he said. “Why wasn’t former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking. What a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!”