Brittney Griner is coming home. Early Thursday, President Joe Biden revealed that Griner is free, safe, and will land in the United States in the next 24 hours
His tweet included photos of himself alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in the Oval Office. The champion WNBA player was expected to serve at least nine years in a Russian prison on a drug possession conviction. However, per CBS News, the Biden Administration followed through on a prisoner exchange with Russia.
If so, the exchange wouldn’t be surprising. Negotiations have been reported for months–even before her conviction and immediate sentencing in August.
CBS reports that the administration exchanged international arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner. President Biden reportedly approved the swap within the last week, which took place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
President Biden Says Brittney Is “In Good Spirits”
Following the tweet, President Biden held a press conference alongside the VP and Cherelle. Though he thanked UAE for their assistance in getting Griner home, he did not confirm or mention the prisoner swap.
Griner spent nine months in Russia. Officials detained her after discovering hashish oil in her luggage in February. She was entering the country to play with a Russian basketball team. Like many American athletes, Brittney also played overseas during her off-season.
Just days ago, several reports claimed Grinre could be facing time in a “notoriously racist and homophobic” Russian penal colony. On Thursday, Biden spoke of Griner’s state of mind and what the U.S. declared was wrongful imprisonment.
“I’m glad to be able to say that Brittney is in good spirits, she’s relieved to finally be headed home. And the fact remains that she’s lost months of her life and experienced needless trauma. She deserves space, privacy, and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained”
Biden addressed Griner as a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and said she “endured mistreatment and a show trial with characteristic grit and incredible dignity.”
Paul Whelan Is Not Coming Home, But Biden Says They’re Not Giving Up
President Biden also mentioned that Brittney was inclusive in her pleas to return home. She also advocated for Paul Whelan–who will not be coming home at this time. Russia imprisoned Whelan in 2018 on espionage charges. In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years on accusations of being a spy, which Whelan and the U.S. have repeatedly denied.
President Biden said Russia is treating Whelan’s case differently but that his administration is committed to bringing Whelan and other Americans imprisoned abroad home.
“We never forgot about Brittney. We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who’s been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden said. “We brought home Trevor Reed, when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up, we will never give up.”
Biden offered his thoughts and prayers to Whelan’s family. He also urged Russia to ensure Paul’s “health and human treatment [is] maintained” until negotiations for his release are met.
“I don’t want any Americans to sit wrongfully detained one extra day if we can bring that person home. My administration has now brought home dozens of Americans who were wrongfully detained or held hostages abroad. Many of whom have been held since before I took office and today we remember the other Americans that are being held hostage or wrongfully detained in Russia or anywhere else in the world.
Brittney Griner’s Wife Speaks
Biden also invited Cherelle to speak at the press conference. She talked about her relief after “one of the darkest moments” of her life. Cherelle has been advocating for her wife’s release for months, revealing that Griner felt like her life didn’t matter at one point. Like Biden, Cherelle also thanked government officials and others involved in securing Brittney’s releaser. She also pledged her and Griner’s commitment to ensuring the freedom of other Americans.
“Today, my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole. BG is not here to say this, but I will gladly speak on her behalf ad say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts as we celebrate BG being home.”
It’s a happy day for Cherelle and her family, she says. So, gon’ head and smile! Welcome home, Brittney Griner!