Brittney Griner’s wife blasts Biden after scheduled call with wife didn’t happen because US embassy wasn’t staffed

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The wife of imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner said she has “zero trust” in the US Government after the couple’s first call in four months failed to go through because the American embassy in Moscow didn’t have staff working on the weekend.

Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press that the couple had received Russian government approval for their first call since Brittney was imprisoned on 17 February on charges of carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.

Cherelle Griner, wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, said a scheduled call did not go through because nobody was staffing the US Embassy in Moscow (Associated Press)
Cherelle Griner, wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, said a scheduled call did not go through because nobody was staffing the US Embassy in Moscow (Associated Press)

When the phone call never came, an anguished Ms Griner initially suspected that Russian authorities may have thwarted the call.

On Monday, she said she learned from her wife’s lawyers a more distressing truth: Brittney Griner had actually tried to call 11 times over a period of several hours, dialling a number she’d been given at the US embassy in Moscow, which the couple had been told would then patch the call through to Cherelle Griner in Phoenix.

But each time, the call went unanswered because the desk at the embassy where the phone rang was apparently unstaffed on Saturday.

“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press, recounting how an anniversary she had eagerly anticipated was instead spent in tears.

She added that she “texted BG’s agent and was like: ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody. It’s going to take me a minute to get my emotions together, and just tell everybody I’m unavailable right now.’ Because it just knocked me out. I wasn’t well, I’m still not well.”

The State Department said on Monday that “we deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error.”

The department reiterated that it has no higher priority than the safety of Americans overseas and that it remains in regular contact with families of hostages and wrongful detainees.

Brittney Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star (Associated Press)
Brittney Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star (Associated Press)

For Cherelle Griner, the experience has exacerbated already simmering frustrations about the US government’s response to her wife’s case.

Though US officials have repeatedly said they are working behind the scenes to get the two-time Olympic gold medalist home from Russia, Cherelle Griner said she is still “very pissed” about the mistake. She emphasized that the call had been on the schedule for two weeks and yet no one warned her during that time that it might be logistically impossible because of the weekend.

She added: “I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now. If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”

Cherelle Griner said a contact in the US government had apologised to her personally for the error.

Brittney Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Russian airport on 17 February after authorities there said a search of her bag revealed cartridges containing cannabis oil.

The State Department in May designated her as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Russian state-run news agency Tass reported last week that her detention had been extended until 3 July.

Associated Press contributed to this report