Russia's release of Griner sparks immediate questions about ex-Marine Whelan being left behind

Whelan has been behind bars in Russia for roughly four years.

Updated: December 8, 2022 - 1:36pm

Russia's release Thursday of WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for a convicted Russian arms dealer sparked an immediate response about why ex-Maine Paul Whelan remains behind bars in Russia for espionage.

"I'm glad Brittney is coming home," tweeted Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott. "But what about U.S. Marine vet Paul Whelan? He's still held by Putin in Russia.

"For Biden to give Putin a dangerous arms dealer - someone known as the 'Merchant of Death' - is weak & disgusting. Doing so while leaving Paul behind is unforgivable."

Amid such outrage Whelan's brother, David Whelan, approved of the administration's decision but criticized America's overall policy toward U.S. citizens being being jailed by foreign enemies. 

"The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to happen," he said in a prepared statement. "It's clear the US government needs to be more assertive. If bad actors like Russia are going to grab innocent Americans, the U.S. needs a swifter, more direct response, and to be prepared in advance."

Griner was arrested in Russia in February for possessing a hash oil vape cartridge and pleaded guilty this summer to the charge.

President Biden in announcing Griner's release said from the White House: "Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case different than Britney's. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up."

Biden did not address the media reports that Griner was exchanged for former Soviet Army Lt. Col. Viktor Bout, who the Justice Department called "one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers."

Whelan received a bad-conduct discharge from the Marines in 2008 for dereliction of duty, for making a false official statement and wrongfully using another’s social security number, among other allegations, official records show.

While he had visited Russia several times previously, he was arrested there in 2018 while serving as global security director for international automotive manufacturer BorgWarner.

Other Republican also criticized the administration for not securing Whelan's release in the deal.

"If @POTUS is going to release a guy convicted of providing aid to a terrorist organization & conspiring to kill American citizens, he should have at least gotten BOTH Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan in return," tweeted New York GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis.

Texas GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson tweeted: "Biden allowed Vicktor Bout, an arms dealer convicted of conspiring to kill Americans, to walk free. This will only EMBOLDEN dictators across the globe. I can’t help but think of Paul Whelan, who’s been ABANDONED by this White House."

Conservative radio host Derek Hunter posted on social media: "A dope smoking basketball player for an international arms dealer and @POTUS couldn't even get Paul Whelan thrown in?"

American Federation of Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten, whose union has 1.7 million members, and is among the Democrat Party's biggest supporters, didn't forget Whelan is expressing her joy for Griner's release, but his status and that of similar prisoners was at the end of her statement.

"What a great relief!!! Extraordinary news, a basketball star, but also a gay, black woman is released," she tweeted. "And yes of course we want other prisoners like Paul Whelan released."

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