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President Biden speaks on why American Paul Whelan wasn't released with Brittney Griner

President Biden said he tried to bring Whelan back home, too, but said Russia is treating his case differently.

WASHINGTON — WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner has been released in a prisoner swap with Russia. It was a one-to-one swap, as the U.S. released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange.

In the months leading up to Griner’s release, there were reports that American Paul Whelan would also be released, but he was not. Whelan had been held in Russia since 2018 on an espionage charge.

President Biden addressed Whelan’s detention after news broke of Griner's release, saying that the White House remains committed to bringing him home.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who’s been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” the president said in an address shortly after news of Griner’s release broke. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had the chance earlier this year. Sadly, for illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s.“

Credit: Associated Press

Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges. He and his family have vigorously asserted his innocence. The U.S. government has denounced the charges as false. He and his family have vigorously asserted his innocence. The U.S. government has denounced the charges as false.

“As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays,” David Whelan, Paul's brother, said in a statement. “There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home."

David Whelan also said he was “so glad” for Griner's release but also disappointed for his family. He credited the White House with giving the Whelan family advance notice and said he did not fault officials for making the deal.

“The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen,” he said.


Biden said he’s keeping in close touch with Whelan’s family and said they’re not giving up and won’t ever give up.

“My thoughts and prayers are with them today,” Biden added. “They must have such mixed emotions today and we’ll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release. I guarantee that. I say that to the family. I guarantee you. I urge Russia to do the same to ensure Paul’s health and humane treatment are maintained until we are able to bring them home.”

Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle, also addressed Whelan’s detention.

“BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today,” she said.

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