Biden officials meet with Paul Whelan's family to discuss efforts to secure his release from Russia
Biden administration officials met with family members of U.S. businessman and former Marine Paul Whelan on Monday to discuss their strategy to secure his release from Russia, the State Department said.
A State Department spokesperson said U.S. efforts to bring Whelan home continue. The the official declined to detail the efforts publicly.
“As President Biden said directly to the Whelan family, and as senior officials working on this case said directly to Paul, we have not forgotten him, and we will continue to pursue every avenue for his release,” the spokesperson said of the meeting.
Whelan is approaching the fourth anniversary of his Dec. 28, 2018, arrest in Russia on espionage charges that he and the U.S. government have denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in jail in 2020.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a news conference Monday that the U.S. would be "creative" and "relentless" in its efforts.
“We’re going to continue to engage in a principled, consistent way with appropriate Russian authorities to secure Paul’s release," Price said. "It’s a commitment we’ve made to his family. It’s a commitment we’ve made to Paul."
Whelan's family said last week that the Biden administration had informed them in advance that Whelan would not be part of the prisoner swap that enabled the release of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner.
A senior U.S. official previously said the Biden administration had sought to have both Griner and Whelan released in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had served nearly half of a 25-year sentence in the U.S. at the time of his release.
The official said, however, that Russia has treated Whelan differently than Griner because of the spying accusation and that the White House ultimately had to choose between Griner's release or no exchange.
Whelan's brother, David Whelan, has said he did not "begrudge" the release of Griner, who was imprisoned in February after Russian officials said they found canisters of cannabis oil in her luggage.
“It is so important to me that it is clear that we do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom,” Whelan said last week. “As I have often remarked, Brittney’s and Paul’s cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com