OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre raised some eyebrows on Thursday when she delivered remarks about WNBA star Brittney Griner. Griner, who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, was released Thursday in a prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“President Biden keeps his promises, and today he fulfilled a deeply important promise to bring Brittney Griner home to a family that loves her, a team that misses her, and a country that has marveled at her strength and courage. Brittney’s safe return home is the product of months and months of painstaking negotiations that were the culmination of extraordinary efforts across the U.S. government. Officials from the White House, the State Department, and across the administration worked tirelessly and relentlessly to see this moment through. As the secretary of state said publicly in July, we have been engaging in intense negotiations with Russia, pursuing many different avenues over the course of last six months to secure Brittney’s release. And we know Brittney fought tirelessly too,” Jean-Pierre said.
“Throughout her ordeal we saw Brittney, a two time Olympic gold medalist for team U.S.A. demonstrates strength, courage and dignity. As the President said this morning, she represents the best of America. I had the opportunity to speak to Cherelle Griner a couple of hours ago, who was looking forward to seeing Brittney as soon as she returned home later today,” she added.
“Cherelle, who herself has handled Britney’s detention with incredible strength, asked me to communicate once again, her sincere gratitude to everyone in the administration, and in their broader — in — in their own broader support network, who made this day possible. She also wanted to reinforce the commitment she and Brittney have made to stand up and speak out for other Americans wrongfully detained abroad. While we’re celebrating Brittney’s return home today, we have also continued to be in touch with the Whelan family for whom this news brings mixed emotions. In recent weeks, it became clear that while Russians were willing to reach an agreement to secure Brittney’s release, they continue to treat Paul Whelan differently given the nature of the total — totally illegitimate charges they have levied against Paul. Unfortunately, the choice became to either bring Brittney home or no one,” the press secretary continued.
KJP: "The choice was bring Brittney home or no one. The president will never stop working to secure Paul Whelan's release. On a personal note, Brittney is an important role model, an inspiration to millions of Americans particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color" pic.twitter.com/ClbGi6ysbq
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) December 8, 2022
After her statements, KJP was grilled by Fox News reporter Peter Doocy about the trade.
“They gave up a professional athlete. We gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans, who is called the ‘Merchant of Death,'” Doocy asked.
Peter Doocy grills Jean-Pierre on Brittney Griner swap:
"They gave up a professional athlete. We gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans, who is called the 'Merchant of Death.'" pic.twitter.com/5KtTvPL1iV
— TheBlaze (@theblaze) December 8, 2022
Back in August, a former DEA agent sounded the alarm when reports first emerged that the Biden administration was discussing swapping Griner for Bout.
Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz wrote an op-ed for USA Today and warned against making the trade.
“Bout, who is known as the “Merchant of Death,” provided the fuel for conflicts across the globe. He was a critical player in the global illicit arms trade not because he could obtain weapons but because he could deliver his destructive cargo anywhere in the world through his control of a private fleet of military aircraft. And he did just that,” the former DEA agent said.
Who is Viktor Bout, Russia's 'Merchant of Death' who could be freed in prisoner swap for Brittney Griner? https://t.co/VUlM2VWouf
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 28, 2022
He’s armed both the Taliban and Hezbollah https://t.co/486IkUMERB
— Alex Plitsas 🇺🇸 (@alexplitsas) August 5, 2022
Here’s more info on Bout from the New York Post:
When the Soviet Union broke up, military equipment belonging to the superpower ended up scattered across the 15 new nations created by the dissolution. These countries had neither the money with which to keep an army paid, nor the infrastructure to keep inventory on the weapons they’d just inherited.
Bout assembled a fleet of ex-Soviet cargo planes — massive Antonov and Ilyushin craft — and began making shipments of arms and other goods all over the world. Bout came to American attention in the late ’90s, as he supplied weapons to the war zones of Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the New York Times reported.
In the decades that followed, his client list grew prolifically. Bout’s reported to have supplied weapons to Hezbollah, according to The Guardian. He reportedly flew weapons to both the Taliban and their foes, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Through a front company, he allegedly even won a contract to deliver FedEx packages to Baghdad.