Over the weekend, as NBC News reports, Rodman told reporters that he had “got permission to go to Russia to help that girl” and that he would try to leave sometime this week. Griner, a top WNBA player who also plays in Russia during the off-season, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison after being found guilty of smuggling illegal drugs into the country (Griner’s defense team recently appealed the decision).
It’s unclear who gave Rodman “permission” to go to Russia, and it doesn’t seem like it came from the White House. In a statement, a Biden administration official noted the U.S. is already working to strike a deal with Russia to secure Griner’s release and warned of complications that might arise if anyone else wormed their way into the proceedings.
“It’s public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,” the official said.
That deal, proffered by the State Department, involved an exchange of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who’s currently imprisoned in America, for Griner and another American — U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former security executive Paul Whelan — whom the U.S. government also believes is “wrongfully detained.” At the beginning of August, Russia reportedly requested that a former colonel convicted of murder in Germany be added to the deal, though a U.S. official slammed the request as a “bad faith” counteroffer.
As for Rodman, the former basketball player has taken up a bit of unofficial international diplomacy in his retirement, having made numerous trips to North Korea since 2013 and befriending leader Kim Jong-Un. Rodman may have even inadvertently played a role in the 2014 release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Evangelical leader sentenced to 15-years of hard labor for allegedly trying to overthrow the North Korean government. Before Bae’s release, Rodman made some remarks in a TV interview that Bae may have deserved his imprisonment, which sparked outrage and also increased publicity of Bae’s plight. While Rodman later apologized and said he’d been drinking at the time, Bae nevertheless credited him for “being a catalyst for my release.”