House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has defended the Biden administration for exchanging notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA star Brittney Griner in a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia that left Marine veteran Paul Whelan languishing in a Russian jail.
Pelosi suggested that the White House could not make a choice in one of her last press conferences, as Speaker of the House. The administration is being criticized for trading the WNBA star for a former KGB agent who attempted to arm the Taliban, and al Qaeda.
Griner, who was arrested by Moscow in February for marijuana-linked drug charges and was recently sentenced at a Russian penal colony to nine years of hard work.
Bout, 55, was entrapped by the DEA during a devilishly complex sting operation in 2008. In 2008, he believed he was selling arms for the FARC – Colombian rebels – in order to shoot down US passenger aircrafts. He was the inspiration for the lead character played by Nicholas Cage in Lord of War.
The Biden administration was under intense public pressure to get the star basketball player out, despite the worst diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow since the Cold War.
Pelosi suggested in her weekly press conference, that Bout was once called the’merchant de death’ and was the only leverage’ the administration had to make her free.
Biden has been scrutinized for failing to secure Whelan’s and other American release, as well as Marc Fogel’s.
Anger at Bout’s return from Moscow authorities was a major source of the criticism. Republicans have criticised Biden’s one-sided deal, which has the potential to empower Vladimir Putin.
Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, defended the U.S. government’s prisoner swap with Russia at her weekly press conference on Thursday
Pelosi, when asked about the GOP criticisms at her weekly press conference Thursday, admitted Bout’s hostile reputation, but claimed that his American sentence was almost up.
Pelosi said, “Well, it is my understanding that he has served most or all of his term.”
“I agree with them in describing him as a bad guy. But Brittney Griner was our desire and that’s why we had the leverage to do it.
Bout was convicted on November 2011 of terrorist-related offenses, including conspiring against killing Americans. He In April of next year, he was sentenced for 25 years in prison.
According to the Bureau of Prisons, the release date for the arms trafficker was not set for August 2029.
Whelan’s continued detention was ‘of equal concern to the United States’, Pelosi stated. But he defended the president with statements from the family of the former Marine who said that the administration made the right decision.
The House Speaker declared that everyone is committed to Whelan’s release.
A composite image shows Brittney Griner (US basketball player) being taken to a courtroom in Khimki City Court in Russia on 7 July 2022. Viktor Bout (Russian arms dealer) is seen in handcuffs as he was escorted by Thai special troops to board the plane for extradition to the USA at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, Thailand (16 November 2010; issued 8 Dec 2022). On 8 December 2022, US and Russian officials confirmed that Brittney Griner was exchanging Viktor Bout in a prisoner exchange.
‘Brittney [Griner] Paul Whelan was a basketball superstar, and her name was more known to everyday Americans. But, Paul Whelan’s freedom is at least equal to our concern.
She Whelan is now a ‘even greater priority.’
Biden confirmed Griner’s release via social media on Thursday morning. He shared photos of Cherelle, the wife of the basketball player, inside the Oval Office.
At the time, the president stated that he had spoken to Griner via phone and that she was currently on a plane to return to the U.S.
Griner, 32, was flown to Abu Dhabi from Moscow. There, she and Bout met up on the runway to rejoin their respective delegations.
A senior administration official stated that Griner was ‘all smiles” when she met the Americans.
Whelan’s relatives stated that Whelan was freed by Griner, but that he is still being held in detention.
Indirectly responding to their concerns, the president stated from the podium: “This was not an option of which American to bring home.”
Biden stated that he had not forgotten about Paul Whelan who was unjustly held in Russia for many years. ‘Sadly, Russia is treating Paul’s situation differently than Brittney because of totally illegitimate grounds.
“And even though we haven’t yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we won’t give up. We will not give in.
Biden stated that the White House was ‘in touch’ with Whelan’s families and commiserated with their mixed emotions about Griner’s homecoming.
“We’ll keep negotiating with good faith for Paul’s freedom – I guarantee that. To the family, I guarantee that. The president assured him.