President Joe Biden is being criticized from all sides and from all political persuasions after he inexplicably signed off on trading a notorious Russian terrorist and arms “merchant” for WNBA player Brittney Griner after she was sentenced to nine years in prison on a drug charge earlier this year.
On Thursday, following news of the swap, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre was asked by Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy why it was so favorable to Russia after Griner was traded for convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
“Why did Russia get such a better deal?” Doocy asked, to which Jean Pierre responded, “Look, you know, I’ve talked about this. And I’ll say this again. Here were our choices. Our choices was Brittany, or no one at all, bring home one American, or no American at all. And that’s that.”
Doocy shot back at the press sec, saying “They gave up a professional athlete. We gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans, who was called the ‘Merchant of Death’.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Biden’s decision to give up Bout as “deeply disturbing.”
“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,'” he said in a statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision.”
“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,” he also said.
“I think there is a concern that [he] would return to doing the same kind of work that he’s done in the past,” a senior Defense Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic, told Politico after Bout’s release.
“Every Africanist who has been working on this for years and years probably will have a little piece of flutter of disappointment inside” that Bout was released, the official added. “If his network … were to come to fruition, then we would definitely share the challenges of what illicit weapons or illegal weapons could mean for their prosperity.”
Derek Maltz, a former DEA special agent in charge, described the release as a “blow to the rule of law.”
“Americans should be very careful traveling around the world,” he told Fox News. “This decision has put Americans at a huge risk.”
The family of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelen, who has been jailed on espionage charges in Russia for three years and was hoping that he would be a part of any deal, was devastated to learn that the Biden administration did not include him in the swap.
“Despite the possibility that there might be an exchange without Paul, our family is still devastated. I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice. His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps for once towards his release,” the family said on Thursday after news broke that Griner was being released.
“He’d been worrying about where he’d live when he got back to the US. And now what? How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison? I can’t imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point. It’s clear that the US government has no concessions that the Russian government will take for Paul Whelan. And so Paul will remain a prisoner until that changes,” they said.
“If Paul Whelan was a basketball player he’d be free right now but he’s a former marine so it doesn’t matter that he’s been stuck in a Russian prison for years longer than Brittney Griner. Sad. The Biden admin should be ashamed leaving him,” conservative commentator and filmmaker Robby Starbuck wrote on Twitter.