“Another reason to impeach Biden,” the Georgia congresswoman tweeted. “The President of the United States traded Russian terrorist arms dealer, Viktor Bout, left a U.S. Marine in Russian jail, and brought home a professional basketball player.”
Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” is a former Soviet officer who was convicted in 2011 on several charges including conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to kill Americans, money launding, and wire fraud. Bout was ultimately sentenced to 26 years in prison.
Greene’s reaction mirrors criticism from other Republican lawmakers and prominent GOP commentators, who have condemned Griner’s release given that Russia has detained multiple U.S. nationals, most notably former Marine Paul Whelan, as well as teacher Marc Fogel.
Whelan, an ex-Marine working in corporate security, was arrested by Russian authorities in 2018 and accused of espionage. Whelan and U.S. intelligence agencies deny the accusation.
President Biden and administration officials have indicated that the Russian government treated the release of additional prisoners in the exchange as a non-starter. “This was not a choice about which American to bring home,” Biden said at a press conference announcing Griner’s release. “For totally illegitimate reasons Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittany’s […] We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”
“We have been in active discussions with the Russians on Mr. Whelan’s case for a very, very long time,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told CNN. “Certainly those conversations accelerated in recent months and I can assure you that we are going to stay at those active discussions going forward.”
Former President Donald Trump wrote on Truth Social that the prisoner swap was “a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA.”
House speaker hopeful Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Caifl.) called the exchange of Bout for Giner a “gift to Vladimir Putin,” that “endangers American lives.”
Several other GOP lawmakers have accused Biden of demonstrating “weakness” in allowing Russia to regain custody of Bout while Whelan remained detained. Tennessee Rep. Mark Green told Fox News that the exchange is a signal to U.S. military service members that the president does not prioritize their well being and safety. Florida Sen. Rick Scott called the terms of the exchange “weak & disgusting.”
Other lawmakers have focused on their concerns for Whelan. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote that while he appreciated the release of Griner, “we must not lose focus on the fact that Paul Whelan remains unjustly held in Russia.” Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that “surely an arms dealer is worth two innocent people?”
Griner and her wife Cherelle Griner have advocated for the continued negotiation for other detained Americans, and requested no “special treatment” in her own case. Whelan’s family indicated that 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].”
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Whelan expressed his disappointment at the collapse of negotiations for his release. “They’ve put me at a level higher than what they did with Trevor [Reed] and Brittney,” he said regarding Russia’s treatment of his case. “I was arrested for a crime that never occurred … I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”