Following the release of former WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed “the Merchant of Death,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) blasted the “lopsided” deal, calling it a “major propaganda victory” for Russia’s leader.
In an exclusive statement to Breitbart News on Sunday, Waltz, a Florida native who represents the Sunshine State’s 6th congressional district, accused the president of allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to “dictate” the terms of the recent prisoner swap.
“Biden just delivered a major propaganda victory for Putin by allowing the Russians to dictate the terms for swapping the Vicktor ‘Merchant of Death’ Bout for Brittney Griner,” he said.
Bout’s release was celebrated by the government of Russia and its state media, variously describing it as a “New Year gift” for a “wonderful person.”
A colonel in the National Guard as well as a former White House and Pentagon policy adviser and the first Green Beret to be elected to Congress, Waltz insisted officials from the current administration have a history of such moves.
“The officials in the Biden Administration — dating back to the Obama years — have repeatedly made lopsided deals for hostages with authoritarians and terrorist groups dating back to giving the Taliban Five in exchange for traitor Bowe Berghdal,” he said, referencing the five high-risk Taliban commanders released by the Obama administration in exchange for kidnapped U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl in 2014.
Last year, the Taliban announced four of the five released Taliban leaders were serving as top officials in its “caretaker” government, with the fifth member installed as the Taliban’s governor for Khost province.
Waltz, a Special Forces commander in Afghanistan at the time of the kidnapping and part of the search team for Bergdahl, had later accused the missing soldier of “betrayal not just of one’s country but also of one’s brothers in arms,” having undoubtedly led to the deaths of servicemembers during the search.
He also told Breitbart News that former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was jailed in Russia in 2018 under purported “espionage” and notably left out of the recent prisoner swap, “deserves better from leaders in Washington.”
“It’s time this administration make drastic changes to its hostage policies that include raising the costs for those who dare try to illegally detain Americans,” he concluded.
This is absolutely shameful. The Whelan family has waited years for Paul’s return and the Biden Administration is giving priority to a celebrity over a veteran. https://t.co/AkQddfS83D
— Rep. Mike Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) December 8, 2022
On Thursday, Breitbart News reported that Russia freed Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the U.S. releasing notorious Viktor Bout, whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.
In 2010, Mike Braun, the former chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said that Bout was “one of the most dangerous men on the face of the Earth.”
Biden’s authorization of the swap underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to bring Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and transfer to a penal colony.
“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden tweeted.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
The swap has since spurred much criticism, including from top government officials.
Former President Donald Trump slammed the prisoner swap, labelling it “stupid” and an “unpatriotic embarrassment.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) warned that the deal would result in the deaths of innocents as rogue states interpret the move as open season to arrest Americans, claiming that “more Americans will be detained, in some cases unjustly detained, in the future because they realize that Joe Biden – at least as long as he is president – will give away the farm in return for any American citizen.”
Former DEA agent Tom Pasquarello, who originally helped catch Bout, also blasted the swap.
“I’m kind of in disbelief that someone with the potential to orchestrate arms deals that can kill Americans anywhere in the world would be traded for a prisoner,” he said.
“I think this sends a terrible message that the U.S. will negotiate, that the U.S. will make concessions and that, if an American is held overseas, there’s always the potential that the U.S. will acquiesce to the demands of people like Putin and bail them out,” he added.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.