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Toward the end of Thursday’s expectedly cordial and friendly interview on The View, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre somewhat surprisingly found herself confronted by host Sunny Hostin on the Biden administration’s “botched” handling of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s Russian imprisonment.
After four months in custody over charges of alleged drug possession, Griner was finally given permission by Russian authorities to call her wife, Cherelle, on Saturday, which was the couple’s fourth anniversary. In an interview with the Associated Press, however, Cherelle Griner said the call never took place because the phone line at the U.S. embassy in Moscow wasn’t staffed.
“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told the AP, noting that her wife attempted to call the embassy 11 times over several hours. “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.”
In the final segment of a multi-part conversation that found the largely sympathetic panel agreeing with much of the White House’s policy positions and decisions, Hostin—who has been one of the White House’s biggest media cheerleaders—took Jean-Pierre to task over the criticism they’ve received from the basketball star’s spouse.
“I want to ask you about the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who’s been detained in Russia since February,” Hostin stated. “Last weekend a scheduled call between her and her wife was botched due to a logistical error with the U.S. embassy, and her wife now says she has zero trust in our government to ensure Griner’s release.”
The View star continued: “She’s asked for weeks to speak directly to President Biden. My question is, why hasn’t that happened yet? Will the president speak with her, and how hopeful are you that this will get resolved soon if our government can’t figure out a call with the embassy?”
Jean-Pierre called the flubbed call an “unfortunate mistake,” adding that Griner’s situation “is a priority for us.” She also claimed that another call “has been rescheduled and is going to happen,” if it hasn’t happened already.
“That is for something for Mrs. Griner to decide if she wants to share that publicly,” the White House flack added.
Jean-Pierre went on to say that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to the basketball superstar on Wednesday night and that the White House’s national security adviser was also planning to speak to her.
“Again, this is a priority,” she declared. “To your point—and what you are trying to say or have said very clearly—which is that Brittney Griner should not be detained. She should not spend one more day being detained, and as we have demonstrated by bringing home Trevor Reed very recently, this is a priority for us.”
Biden’s chief spokesperson concluded by noting that the administration is “going to be aggressive” about bringing home Americans who are “being unlawfully held in Russia,” also referencing the status of Paul Whelan. After the Biden administration secured the release of Reed through a prisoner swap, Whelan’s attorney told The Daily Beast that he was “ultimately disappointed” that the retired Marine was still behind bars in Russia.
“U.S. State Department representatives tried to clarify that in a call to one of our families this week. They feel we need to do more, ‘make more noise’ or ‘be a squeakier wheel,’” Whelan’s twin brother, David, told The Daily Beast. Whelan is accused by Russia of espionage and has been sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies in Moscow state media, meanwhile, have openly gloated recently that the Kremlin can use these Americans in Russian captivity as pawns amid heightened tensions. “Right now, we also have an American basketball player caught with drugs, so we have somewhat of an exchange fund,” one Russian TV pundit boasted this week.
The seriousness of the moment, though, was short-lived on The View. Following Hostin’s confrontation with Jean-Pierre, liberal co-host Joy praised the flack for helping “restore credibility in the briefing room” before causing her to crack up by invoking a favorite View punching bag.
“I always noticed how Peter Doocy from Fox News gave Jen [Psaki] a hard time. You know, he asks questions that are directly given to him from Fox,” Behar exclaimed. “Have you had to swat him down much yet?!”
A Fox News spokesperson, however, denied Behar’s claim that Doocy received his questions directly from the network.
“In his role as White House correspondent, Peter Doocy’s job is to elicit truth from power for the American public,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “His questions are his own, he is a terrific reporter and we are extremely proud of his work.”