A former US Marine freed from a Russian prison in April said he believes President Joe Biden isn’t doing enough to bring basketball star Brittney Griner or corporate executive Paul Whelan home.
Trevor Reed, who was released in April in a prisoner exchange for Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko, was detained in 2019 and sentenced in July 2020 to nine years. He said in an interview that he believes the White House can quickly secure the release of US citizens in Russian prisons and jails.
But he said he’s frustrated with the public pace of action on the cases of Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury who was arrested this year, and Whelan, who was taken into custody in 2018.
“I can’t say 100% what the White House is or is not doing — that’s obviously not public information,” said Reed, whose full interview will air Tuesday on “Hallie Jackson NOW” at 5 pm ET.
“But, in my opinion, the White House has the ability to get them out extremely fast, and they clearly have chosen not to do that. So no, in my opinion, they’re not doing enough.”
Reed, who has repeatedly denied the assault allegations that led to his prison sentence, added that he was “extremely grateful” that the Biden administration and the president made the decision to get him out.
“I think that was the ethical decision, and I think that they did the right thing,” Reed said. “He ultimately makes that decision — that decision has to come from the top. And, you know, I’m grateful for that. And I appreciate that. But I think that, you know, he has the responsibility to continue doing the right thing.”
The White House on Tuesday responded to Reed’s comments by saying Griner and Whelan have “been top of mind for the President and for our national security team.”
“President Biden has been clear about the need to see every American who is wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad released, including Brittney Griner,” Adrienne Watson, White House spokesperson, told NBC News.
“Months ago, he directed his national security team to pursue every avenue to bring Brittney home safely to her family, friends, and loved ones. The US government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue, to make that happen.”
“The President receives regular updates about the status of our negotiations to secure Brittney’s release, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world.”
After Biden spoke to Whelan’s sister this month, the White House said it was “committed to bringing Paul home as soon as possible.”
In a separate call with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, the White House said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris sought to “reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who played for a Russian basketball team during the WNBA’s offseason, was detained in February after Russian authorities found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges this month. Her lawyers de ella, who have argued she was in a hurry and packed the canisters by accident, submitted medical records to the court last week that they said showed that Arizona authorities had permitted her to use cannabis to treat injury-related chronic pain.
US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have said Griner is being “wrongfully detained.” Elizabeth Rood, the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, has reiterated that position since Griner’s guilty plea.
Griner’s trial continues Tuesday, and she isn’t expected to testify as her legal team presents more evidence.
Whelan, a corporate security executive, has said he was visiting Russia for a friend’s wedding in 2018 when he was arrested; he was later convicted of espionage. In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He has insisted he is innocent.
The US ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan, has called Whelan’s conviction a “mockery of justice.”
Tatyana Chistikova contributed.