Joe Biden: Brittney Griner an ‘Incomparable Athlete,’ Who ‘Represents the Best of America’

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.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 08: Cherelle Griner (L), wife of Olympian and WNBA player Brittney Griner, speaks after U.S. President Joe Biden announced her release from Russian custody, at the White House on December 08, 2022 in Washington, DC. Griner was released as part of a prisoner swap that involved Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Biden was joined by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Cherelle Griner (L), wife of WNBA player Brittney Griner, speaks after U.S. President Joe Biden announced her release from Russian custody, at the White House on December 08, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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.

Viktor Bout sits while waiting for his verdict at the detention room at a criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009. The Russian arms dealer who once inspired a Hollywood movie is back in the headlines with speculation around a return to Moscow in a prisoner exchange for U.S. WBNA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Viktor Bout sits while waiting for his verdict at the detention room at a criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, August 11, 2009. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

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.

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2019, file photo, Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow on Dec. 28, 2018, stands in a cage as he waits for a hearing in a court room in Moscow, Russia. The Moscow City Court on Monday June 15, 2020, convicted Paul Whelan on charges of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in maximum security prison colony. Whelan has insisted on his innocence, saying he was set up. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko. File)

In this August 23, 2019, file photo, Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for alleged spying, stands in a cage as he waits for a hearing in a court room in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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.

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