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President Joe Biden to Meet with Britney Griner's Family amid WNBA Star's Detention

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 15, 2022

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden will meet with the families of Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan on Friday, according to the Associated Press' Eric Tucker:

"Friday's meetings, which both families have long sought, are intended to underscore the administration's commitment to bringing home Griner, Whelan and other Americans jailed abroad, as well as to 'connect with them on a human level as they undergo an ordeal that the Russian government has imposed on them,' said one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as the meetings had not yet been publicly announced."

Griner has been wrongfully detained for 210 days after being arrested in February at a Moscow airport after authorities alleged she was carrying vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil. In July, she pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling, which ESPN's T.J. Quinn reported "was a strategy to help facilitate a prisoner swap that could bring Griner home."

A Moscow court found her guilty and sentenced her to nine years in prison in August.

CNN's Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez and Hansler reported in July the Biden administration was prepared to release convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout in return for securing the releases of Griner and Whelan. Whelan received a 16-year prison sentence in 2020 on espionage charges.

The following week, Natasha Bertrand and Frederik Pleitgen of CNN reported that Russian officials were requesting to include a convicted murderer in the swap.

Ivan Nechayev, a deputy spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said on Aug. 11 that Russia "is ready to discuss the issue, but only within the channel negotiated" by Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The comments came after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cautioned the U.S. against allowing the negotiations to unfold in public.

"The Americans have already made that mistake, suddenly deciding to use megaphone diplomacy to resolve these issues," he told reporters.

Tucker reported Biden's planned meetings are scheduled in part to address what the families have "perceived as a lack of aggressive action and coordination from the administration."

As one example, Griner's wife, Cherelle, told the AP in June she was unable to speak with Griner at a scheduled time that had been arranged through Russia and the U.S. State Department. According to the report, Griner phoned the U.S. embassy in Moscow 11 times, but there was nobody on shift at the embassy to take the call and patch it through to Cherelle.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Cherelle on July 6 "to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible."

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