Biden speaks with Whelan family after outcry over Griner’s ‘unequal’ treatment

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President Joe Biden spoke with the family of an American wrongfully detained in Russia a day after there was an outcry because he contacted the family of another American imprisoned there.

Biden spoke to Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner, on Thursday following significant public pressure for such a call from the president, though the family of serving American Paul Whelan a 16-year prison sentence for allegedly being a US spy, expressed frustration at what Elizabeth Whelan, her sister, described as ‘unequal’ treatment for families of Americans wrongfully detained overseas .

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So the president contacted Whelan on Friday, she told the Washington Examiner.

“As you can imagine, I was extremely surprised to suddenly receive a call from the President as I was walking down the street at [New York City]! He showed great concern and empathy about Paul’s situation and, as Jake Sullivan had done the day before, reassured me that the [United States government] doing everything she can to bring Paul home,” she told those who engage in hostage diplomacy.”

“We hope that a reasonable agreement can be reached for Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner to return home as soon as possible,” Elizabeth Whelan said.

Brittney Griner pleaded guilty Thursday in a Russian court where she admitted smuggling two vape cartridges filled with hashish oil into the country. She was arrested on February 17 and has been detained ever since. If found guilty, she faces 10 years in prison.

After the president spoke with Cherelle Griner, Whelan told the Washington Examiner: “We can’t expect the president to, you know, call and…write letters to every inmate, but if he decides to do it with one family, he has to do it with all of them, and that’s was my disappointment.”

A number of other family members of Americans wrongfully detained abroad shared the sentiment on social media.

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The United States and Russia agreed to a spring prisoner exchange, although neither Whelan nor Griner were included. The Russians have agreed to give up Trevor Reed, a former Marine detained for more than two years, for the return of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut for conspiracy to smuggle Drugs.

A senior administration official said at the time that the deterioration of “Reed’s health was a source of serious concern” to Biden.

One possible scenario discussed in Russian state media is that the United States would trade Viktor Bout, a well-known arms dealer who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011. Bout’s lawyer told the Washington Examiner earlier this week that he thinks the Kremlin would agree to trade Griner and Whelan for Bout.

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