Biden to meet with Griner and Whelan families at White House

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President Biden will meet at the White House with the families of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, both of whom remain jailed in Russia, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Thursday.

Plans for the meeting, scheduled for Friday, were first reported by the Associated Press.

Biden will meet with Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, and Paul Whelan's sister, Elizabeth Whelan, to “discuss his continuing commitment to bringing their family members home safely,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.

“As we have said before, we believe that Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney and Paul under intolerable circumstances,” Jean-Pierre said. “He wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks at a press briefing
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Biden would meet with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan on Friday. (Andrew Harnik/AP) (AP)

Griner, who has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges, was sentenced last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty. Griner was detained in Moscow after she was found carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time Olympic gold medalist said she accidentally packed them while she was in a hurry. She has appealed the sentence.

Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges, is serving a 16-year sentence.

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner was detained at a Moscow' airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters) (Evgenia Novozhenina / reuters)

Earlier this year, the Biden administration reportedly offered to exchange convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout as part of a potential deal to secure the release of Whelan and Griner.

Bout is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

“We made a significant offer a couple of months ago through the same channels we use for Trevor Reed,” Jean-Pierre said Thursday. “We have followed up on that offer repeatedly and will continue to pursue every avenue to bring them home safely.”

Reed, a 30-year-old U.S. Marine veteran, was released in a prisoner swap with Russia in April.

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan
Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, holds a sign in protest during his verdict hearing in Moscow in June 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters) (Maxim Shemetov / reuters)

The swap followed a meeting Biden had with Reed’s parents at the White House in March.

“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly,” Biden said in a statement following Reed’s release. “His safe return is a testament to the priority my administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”