Across many polls, President Joe Biden has seen his popularity slip with his own liberal base. Now he’s facing demands from the House Democrats’ favorite celebrity: WNBA star Britney Griner, who is trapped in Russia.
In February, Griner was detained in Russia after allegedly carrying controlled substances into the country. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, called for Russia to release Griner, and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., lamented the Russo-Ukrainian War’s impact on Griner.
Now, Griner has made an appeal to Biden himself. She handwrote a letter and passed it to the White House through her representatives.
In the letter, she feared for her chances to return home. She also asked Biden not to “forget about me and the other American Detainees.”
Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said the letter was delivered on Monday. Most of the letter’s contents to President Biden remain private, though Griner’s representatives shared a few lines from the hand-written note.
″…As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.
“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran,” the Phoenix Mercury center added. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
The two-time Olympic gold medalist turned political prisoner is in the midst of a trial in Russia that began last week after she was arrested on Feb. 17 on charges of possessing cannabis oil while returning to play for her Russian team. The trial will resume Thursday.
Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in U.S. courts, acquittals can be overturned.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has expressed disappointment in the Biden administration. She said Tuesday morning she has not had any direct communication with Biden since the letter was delivered to the White House.
“I still have not heard from him and honestly, it’s very disheartening,” Cherelle Griner said on CBS Mornings.
Biden’s White House National Security Council confirmed to the Associated Press that the White House has received Griner’s letter.
“We believe the Russian Federation is wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner,” NSC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said on Monday. “President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively – using every available means – to bring her home.”
Cherelle Griner said for Brittney to reach out directly to Biden is an indication of just how afraid her wife is about what’s next.
“BG is probably the strongest person that I know. So she doesn’t say words like that lightly,” Cherelle said. “That means she truly is terrified that she may never see us again. And you know I share those same sentiments. … I’m sure she was like, ‘I’m gonna write him now because … my family has tried and to no avail. So I’m going do it myself.’”
Just as Griner’s supporters are expressing their disappointment with Biden, reports have emerged about former President Donald Trump’s attempts to free the musician A$AP Rocky from his arrest in Sweden.
Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson reportedly said in an interview that Trump demanded Rocky’s release under threat of “trade restrictions.”
Griner pleaded with Biden in the letter to use his powers to ensure her return.
“Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore,” Griner said “I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
Griner has been able to have sporadic communications with family, friends and WNBA players through an email account her agent set up. The emails are printed out and delivered in bunches to Griner by her lawyer after they are vetted by Russian officials. Once the lawyers get back to their office, they’ll scan any responses from Griner and pass them back to the U.S. to send along.
She was supposed to have a phone call with her wife on their anniversary but it failed because of an “unfortunate mistake,” Biden administration officials.
Griner’s supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy. The State Department in May designated her as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Griner isn’t the only American being wrongfully detained in Russia. Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director is serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.