White House official John Kirby said Friday that former Marine Paul Whelan had no chance of being freed from Russia amid scrutiny that the Biden administration left him behind while freeing WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Griner was released Thursday from a Russian penal colony in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” Whelan, who has been in Russian detention since 2018, was not released.
Speaking on Fox News, Kirby said Russians were not willing to deal with Whelan, leaving Griner as the only option. (RELATED: Scarborough: Biden Not Getting Paul Whelan Back Is Actually Trump’s Fault)
“The only deal that the Russians were willing to put forward was Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout. Believe me, we would have liked to have both of them home today and we have tried all kinds of different permutations and options and different sort of initiatives, proposals to get that done, but it just wasn’t possible.”
“The Russians – I just want to be clear on this, Dana. They never said to us, ‘Hey, we want Bout back. You get to choose, Americans, whether it’s Brittney or Paul.’ They are treating Paul differently. Paul was never in the mix in their mind with respect to Mr. Bout. It was just for Brittney. So, the President had a tough decision to make. Obviously we did everything we could to get both of them, but he had an opportunity to at least get one and so he made that tough decision to get Brittney back home.”
The trade has come under fire, with Twitter CEO Elon Musk saying “never leave a marine behind. Never.”
Barstool Sports President Dave Portnoy said Biden got “fleeced” after trading Bout for Griner in a video posted to Twitter.
“This trade feels like a PR stunt,” Portnoy said, questioning whether Whelan might have been freed had more celebrities been outspoken.
NFL star Micah Parsons also criticized the trade deal, saying “Wait nah!! We left a marine? Hell nah”
Former President Donald Trump allegedly rejected a deal to trade Bout for Whelan when the latter was detained in 2018, former national security advisor John Bolton said.
“The possibility of a Bout-for-Whelan trade existed back then,” Bolton said. “It wasn’t made, for very good reasons having to deal with Viktor Bout.”
Whelan’s family said they were “devastated” and that “the U.S. government needs to be more assertive.”
“How can you continue to survive, day after day, when your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison?”