Kinzinger on prison swap: 'Surely an arms dealer is worth two innocent people'

WNBA player Brittney Griner was swapped for a Russian arms dealer while Ret. Marine Paul Whelan remains in Russian custody after Russia rejected a 2-1 prisoner swap in August.

Updated: December 8, 2022 - 3:40pm

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Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger criticized the Biden administration's handling of the prison swap of WNBA player Brittney Griner for a Russian arms dealer while Ret. Marine Paul Whelan remains in Russian custody.

In July, the U.S. offered to swap convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan. 

In August, Russia reportedly rejected the offer and said it would only agree to a 1-1 swap or a 2-2 swap. It was announced on Thursday that Griner was traded for Bout.

"What about retired marine who has been unjustly detained for years, Paul Whelan? Surely an arms dealer is worth two innocent people?" Kinzinger wrote on Twitter.

Whelan has been in Russian custody for 4 years.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed similar criticism. 

"'Merchant of Death'—That's the nickname of the prisoner Biden returned to Putin. He was convicted of conspiring to kill American law enforcement," he said. "This is a gift to Vladimir Putin, and it endangers American lives. Leaving Paul Whelan behind for this is unconscionable."

House Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul said the trade has emboldened Putin.

"I am relieved that Ms. Griner will be returned home safely. However, trading Viktor Bout – a dangerous convicted arms dealer who was in prison for conspiring to kill Americans – will only embolden Vladimir Putin to continue his evil practice of taking innocent Americans hostage for use as political pawns," he said. "Moreover, my heart breaks for Paul Whelan and other wrongfully detained Americans in Russia. They must not be forgotten."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Biden made the right decision. She said Griner was a household name due to her status as an athlete but Whelan is a veteran who deserves to be released.

"Brittany being a basketball star and her name was more famous to everyday Americans. But Paul Whelan is of at least equal concern to us to have his freedom so nobody is saying, 'Oh well, we just settled for this.' No, he becomes even a larger priority," she said.