President Joe Biden on Thursday celebrated the news that his administration had successfully secured the release of WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained in Russia.
“Brittney is an incomparable athlete,” Biden said, noting she was a two-time Olympic Gold medalist for the United States.
Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport by Russian officials for possession of cannabis vape cartridges.
“She represents the best about America — just across the board, everything about her,” Biden said.
The Biden administration secured Griner’s release after they agreed to exchange her freedom for the release of Viktor Bout, a convicted international weapons dealer.
The news of Griner’s release surprised Americans advocating for the release of ex-U.S. Marine Paul Whelan from Russia, who has been detained for nearly four years.
Biden tried to ward off criticism by noting that “this was not a choice of which American to bring home.”
“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” he said.
He promised to keep working for Whelan’s release, admitting the family would likely have “mixed emotions” about the news of Griner’s release.
“We’ll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release. I guarantee that,” he added. “I say that to the family: I guarantee you.”
The White House argued Thursday during the daily briefing with reporters that there was only one choice, “Bring Brittney home or no one.”
“She is an important role model, an inspiration to millions of Americans particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.