Brittney Griner, the former WNBA star whom Russia released in turn for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, is an “inspiration” to “LGBTQI+ Americans,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during Thursday’s White House press briefing, defending the Biden administration’s prisoner swap as retired Marine Paul Whelan remains imprisoned.
“Unfortunately, the choice became to either bring Brittney home or no one,” Jean-Pierre said, defending the Biden administration for going through with the prisoner swap, leaving Whelan out of the deal.
“As the President said this morning, he will never stop working to secure Paul’s release and return home, and he will not give up,” she continued before championing Griner as an “important” role model to LGBT Americans and black women.
“On a personal note, Brittney is more than an athlete, more than an Olympian. She is an important role model and inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color,” Jean-Pierre, who is in a domestic partnership with CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux, continued.
“She should never have been detained by Russia,” the White House spokeswoman continued, expressing pride at the “work” Biden has done.
Griner was originally detained in February on drug charges and pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis vape cartridges. As a result, she was sentenced to nine years in prison. News of her release brought mixed reviews as some, including Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), expressed concern over the “deeply disturbing” decision to release Russian arms deal Viktor Bout, although he still celebrated Griner’s homecoming.
Former President Donald Trump is among critics of the prisoner swap.
“What kind of a deal is it to swap Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our Country, for the man known as ‘The Merchant of Death,’ who is one of the biggest arms dealers anywhere in the World, and responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and horrific injuries,” Trump asked.
“Why wasn’t former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking. What a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!” he exclaimed.
Whelan’s family said they were alerted that he would not be included in the prisoner swap.
“That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul,” David Whelan, his brother, said. “I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media.”