The U.S. State Department justified trading Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death,” for WNBA player Brittney Griner at Friday’s briefing.
Daily Caller Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Dylan Housman asked deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel about criticism surrounding the tradeoff of an arms dealer for Griner, who began serving a 9-year sentence for attempting to carry marijuana outside the country. Housman asked whether this will “incentivize” Russia to detain more U.S. citizens for small offenses.
“The important word in your question you had at the beginning, that was U.S. citizen, there is no higher priority for this administration than the safety and security of American citizens who are wrongfully detained or being held hostage abroad. This was, of course, a tough decision. The president had a tough decision to make. On the individual in question, Viktor Bout, he had served a number of years in U.S. prison facility after being convicted with due process. He was scheduled for release in 2029 and was part of this arrangement so that we could bring Brittney home safely and securely,” Patel said.
The Russian government has detained former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan since 2018 on charges of espionage and have sentenced him to 16 years in prison. The ex-Marine’s family said they were “devastated” after he was excluded from the exchange, though the administration reportedly attempted to secure the release of both the prisoners.
The White House has also defended the exchange of Griner for Bout, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre telling reporters Thursday that it is more beneficial to return one American citizen home than no one. (REPORT: Biden Officials Explain ‘Painful Decision’ To Swap Arms Dealer For Griner While Leaving US Marine Behind)
“Our choices [were] Brittney or no one at all. Bringing home one American or no American at all,” the press secretary told Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy.