The White House has defended Democrat President Joe Biden’s prisoner swap deal to exchange American WNBA star Brittney Griner for dangerous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death.”
The move has provoked a widespread backlash after it was revealed that Biden agreed to the deal, despite it not including U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan.
As Slay News reported, the initial negations were for Russia to release both Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout.
Whelen, who worked as a security expert, was jailed on espionage charges after being arrested in Moscow in 2018.
After she was caught trying to leave Russia with cannabis in her bag, Giner pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges and was sentenced to serve nine years in a brutal Russian labor camp.
However, Biden agreed to the deal this week which saw Griner released in exchange for Bout while Whelan was left behind.
During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Biden’s prisoner swap.
She argued that it was more “important” to bring Griner home because she’s an “inspiration” to “woke” Americans.
“Unfortunately, the choice became to either bring Brittney home or no one,” said Jean-Pierre, who is in a “domestic partnership” with CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux.
“As the President said this morning, he will never stop working to secure Paul’s release and return home, and he will not give up,” she continued.
She then started championing Griner as an “important” role model to LGBT Americans and black women.
“On a personal note, Brittney is more than an athlete, more than an Olympian.
“She is an important role model and inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color,” Jean-Pierre continued.
“She should never have been detained by Russia,” the White House spokeswoman added, expressing pride at the “work” Biden has done.
Jean-Pierre didn’t explain why Biden believes a “woke” athlete is more “important” than a military veteran, however.
KJP: "The choice was bring Brittney home or no one. The president will never stop working to secure Paul Whelan's release. On a personal note, Brittney is an important role model, an inspiration to millions of Americans particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color" pic.twitter.com/ClbGi6ysbq
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) December 8, 2022
Griner was originally detained in February on drug charges and pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis vape cartridges.
As a result, she was sentenced to nine years in prison.
News of Griner’s release has brought mixed reviews.
Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) expressed concern over the “deeply disturbing” decision to release Russian arms deal Viktor Bout, although he still celebrated Griner’s homecoming.
President Donald Trump is among the many critics of the prisoner swap.
“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,” Trump asked.
“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!!!” he exclaimed.
Whelan’s family said they were alerted that he would not be included in the prisoner swap.
“That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul,” David Whelan, his brother, said.
“I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media.”