Top Senate Democrat Menendez: Biden exchanging Griner for Viktor Bout 'deeply disturbing decision'

Menendez said he would use the power of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee to secure the return of American Paul Whelan.

Updated: December 9, 2022 - 10:59am

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New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is critical of the prisoner exchange Thursday with Russia of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner for arms dealer Viktor Bout and about the larger issues of hostage taking and swapping.

Griner was arrested in Russia in February for trying to bring a cannabis-filled vape cartridge into the country, a charge to which she pled guilty this summer.

Bout is a Russian weapons trafficker who was convicted on terrorism charges in 2011 for trying to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of missiles to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for the purpose of shooting down U.S. Military helicopters, according to the Daily Wire.

"This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize we have a serious problem with hostage-taking of Americans," Menendez said in a statement.

"The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griners of the world and people like Viktor Bout, the so-called 'Merchant of Death.' Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision.”

“We must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips, and we must try to do better at encouraging American citizens against traveling to places like Russia where they are primary targets for this type of unlawful detention,” he continued.

Menendez’s statement also mentioned ex-Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Russia in 2018 on the suspicion of spying.

"My heart also goes out to the families of other American citizens in Russian prisons and labor camps, including Paul Whelan," the statement concluded. "They have my renewed commitment and determination to use the power of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to secure Mr. Whelan’s safe return and to continue fighting for the release of all Russian political prisoners, like Vladimir Kara Murza, and all other unjustly detained Americans."