On Thursday, President Joe Biden freed WNBA star Brittney Griner as part of a prisoner exchange. Griner went Russian prison for allegedly carrying a controlled substance into the country, and Biden freed a Russian arms dealer in order to retrieve Griner.
Meanwhile, Biden has yet to free Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine still imprisoned in Russia after four years.
Biden has faced criticism for his slow response to Whelan’s ordeal. After all, he freed Trevor Reed, another former Marine, after only two years in a Russian prison.
Some of the harshest criticism came from tech billionaire Elon Musk.
“Never leave a marine behind,” Musk tweeted Friday. “Never.”
Musk made the remarks in response to an anonymous “troll” account called @catturd2.
Like Musk, Republican lawmakers also questioned Biden’s dealmaking skills.
“What about retired marine who has been unjustly detained for years, Paul Whelan? Surely an arms dealer is worth two innocent people,” Rep. Adam Kinziger, R-Ill., tweeted Thursday.
Biden said Friday that the U.S. has “not forgotten about Paul Whelan” and will “never give up” trying to secure his release from Russia.
Paul Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, gave an interview with Newsmax to describe his brother’s condition.
Take a look —
David Whelan, the brother of Paul Whelan: "He gets up every morning and sings the U.S. national anthem." pic.twitter.com/SCMWZm86FU
— NEWSMAX (@NEWSMAX) December 9, 2022
Asked if more such swaps could happen, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that “everything is possible,” noting that “compromises have been found” to clear the way for Thursday’s exchange.
Griner’s fame brought tremendous attention to the case. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after her arrest complicated matters further.
The deal that saw Griner exchanged for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout achieved a top goal Biden.
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Biden’s authorization to release Bout, the Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” underscored the heightened urgency that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case on drug charges and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
The WNBA star, who also played pro basketball in Russia, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil. The U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.
“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!” tweeted Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
Biden spoke by phone with Griner. U.S. officials said she would be offered specialized medical services and counseling.
In releasing Bout, the U.S. freed a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. in 2010.
Bout was serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.
It remains unclear which Russian prisoner Biden would release in exchange for Whelan.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.