John Kirby says the Biden administration is interested in 'government-to-government contact' with Russia regarding Brittney Griner's release
- The Biden administration is interested in "government-to-government" contact with Russia over Brittney Griner's release, John Kirby said.
- Kirby and Jake Sullivan have said the administration is working directly with Russia.
The Biden administration is interested in "government-to-government" contact with Russia's Kremlin to try to secure Brittney Griner's release, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN's Brianna Keilar Tuesday.
"We definitely are interested in government-to-government contact here with Russia to try to secure the release of Brittney Griner," Kirby said.
He added that the administration is also looking into the release of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage, and "all Americans that are unjustly detained around the world."
—Brianna Keilar (@brikeilarcnn) July 12, 2022
His comments echo those of National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who at Monday's White House Press Briefing discussed New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's plans to pay a visit to Griner in Russian captivity.
"President Biden is laser-focused on a government-to-government solution to this issue," Sullivan said Monday.
"As he indicated to Brittney Griner in the letter that he wrote to her, we are working directly with the Russian government, through appropriate channels, to try to bring a speedy resolution not just to her case but to Paul Whelan's case as well," Sullivan told reporters.
"And we will continue to work until those two unjustly detained Americans and all unjustly detained Americans and hostages are home safely," he added.
Griner has been held in a Russian prison since February, when Russian officials accused her of carrying vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. She pleaded guilty to the charges last week — a move experts told Insider could expedite the process of bringing her home.
Sources have repeatedly told Insider that the two-time Olympic gold medalist's best chance of returning stateside any time soon involves a prisoner exchange with Russia. Several experts explained that an unorthodox two-for-one swap involving Whelan and notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout could be the key to Griner's freedom.
Even Bout's sentencing judge — the Hon. Shira A. Scheindlin, who was a federal judge at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York when she gave Bout a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison — told Insider that "I don't think it would be wrong to trade him" in exchange for Griner and Whelan.
"I'm not saying he's an innocent guy, don't get me wrong, but I do think having served 11 years or so ... that's a pretty hefty amount of time in a person's life," Scheindlin added. "... The US interest in punishing him has been satisfied, in my opinion."
As Griner's fight for freedom wages on half a world away, the WNBA is in the middle of its 2022 season. Just this weekend, 22 of the league's top players traveled to Chicago for this year's All-Star Game. The superstars vowed to use every tool at their disposal to help urge the Biden administration to act — including wearing Griner's name and number on their jerseys during Sunday's contest.
"We are the most unified league in the world, and wearing the jerseys was a statement to show that we are BG," 2022 WNBA All-Star captain A'ja Wilson said on Sunday. "Yes, we have the shirts and the pins, but BG is one of us. She's our sister.
"And at the end of the day, we are going to do whatever we can to amplify the platform that we have to make sure that everyone is doing what they need to do to make sure that she gets home safely," the 2020 league MVP added. "It's hard. It's hard for all of us. It's not easy."
"Not a day goes by that I'm not thinking about Brittney Griner."
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