President Biden announced a prisoner swap with Russia on Thursday, offering Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Brittney Griner. Still, some conservatives disagree that the president has excluded American Paul Whelan.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, took to Twitter demanding a response from the Biden administration on why the Iraq war veteran was left out of the deal.
“This probably wasn’t a simple ‘pick him or her’ situation. But if it was, pick the guy who served our country, Paul Whelan. We should get an explanation from this administration immediately,” Crenshaw wrote.
Those same sentiments were echoed by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, who simply asked, “What about the retired Marine who’s been wrongfully detained for years, Paul Whelan?”
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He added: “Surely one arms dealer is worth more than two innocents?”
In a subsequent tweet, Kinzinger congratulated Griner on his release and argued that calling for Whelan’s release was not “unreasonable.”
“It is in no way partisan or unreasonable both to congratulate Brittany on her freedom and to criticize that the man who has been in captivity for years was overlooked again. I have been involved in this for years after receiving these three years ago today.” wrote the Republican legislator.
The representative also shared a statement from Jonathan Franks, the spokesman for Bring Our Families Home, who also congratulated Griner’s release and said Whelan “deserves better” from the Biden administration.
“We celebrate the long-awaited return of Brittney Griner and her safe return home to her wife, family, teammates and the WNBPA who fought tirelessly for her,” the campaign spokesperson said. “As we celebrate Brittney’s homecoming, our hearts break for the Whelan family. Paul Whelan has been let down and left behind at least three times by two presidents.”
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Franks added: “He deserves better from his administration, and our campaign implores President Biden to urgently secure Paul’s immediate return using all available tools.”
On Thursday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson similarly argued that “the case of Paul Whelan would be a priority for any American government.”
“Here you have a man who actively served the United States in the Marine Corps and then possibly as an intelligence asset in a hostile foreign country. That man languishes in a Russian prison cell for the rest of his lifespan,” Carlson added during a segment on “Fox News Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
He continued: “So, not surprisingly, the American authorities in Washington promised to do everything they could to bring this man home. But it turns out they didn’t mean it.”
During Biden’s announcement earlier in the day, he referenced Whelan, saying today’s prisoner swap was “not a choice of which American to bring home.”
“Unfortunately, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” the president said. “And while we haven’t yet managed to secure Paul’s release, we will not give up. We will never give up.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed these comments during an exchange with Fox News reporting Peter Doocy.
“In this prisoner exchange, why did Russia get such a better deal?” Doocy asked clearly.
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“The choice was Brittney or nobody at all. Bring home an American or no American at all,” Jean-Pierre replied.
Doocy continued: “We got a professional athlete, but we gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans who was called the ‘merchant of death.'”
“…the professional athlete is also a US citizen,” Jean-Pierre chimed in. “Then let’s not forget that.”
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She added: “The president said this was the best opportunity to bring Brittney home and he will continue to do everything he can to bring Paul Whelan home like he did Trevor Reed.”
Trevor Reed is a US citizen and former Marine who was released via a prisoner exchange with Russia in April 2022.
During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Alex Wagner Tonight,” Jean-Pierre suggested that Russia sees Whelan as a spy, or different from an ordinary American citizen.
“But unfortunately, unfortunately, Russia was not negotiating in good faith with Paul Whelan because they categorized him very differently. They wrongfully accused him of something that, again, was wrongful. And therefore we could not secure his release. ,” she said. “But we want to make it very clear that the president wants to make it very clear that he will continue to make sure that he gets Paul home safely and ensure his release.”
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The White House spokesman also dismissed any hint that Biden might have further negotiated the deal to include Whelan.
“I will say this, this is not a decision this president made lightly. He believed this was an opportunity to bring Brittany home and he wanted to make sure we were able to do it,” he said. .
Jean-Pierre concluded: “Look, this deal was specific and very, very targeted at Brittany because we knew we had a deal and we knew we could secure her release.”