The sister of Paul Whelan, a US Navy veteran imprisoned in Russia, expressed frustration on Wednesday with President Joe Biden who called out the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is also being held in the country, but who has not made contact with his family.
Elizabeth Whelan retweeted a screenshot of reading Biden’s appeal with the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle Griner, adding that she was ‘crushed’ the Whelan family still hasn’t received a President’s call.
Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage, according to The Associated Press.
“Still looking for that press release saying @POTUS told anyone in OUR family about #PaulWhelan, wrongfully detained in #Russia for 3.5 years,” Whelan tweeted.
“I’m crushed. If he wants to talk about getting Paul released, he needs to talk to the Whelans! What are we to think?!” Whelan continued.
Speaking to CNN’s “The Lead” on Wednesday afternoon, Whelan explained that she “doesn’t hold a grudge against the Griner family and their supporters.”
“I think our concern is, you know, why the awareness of some families and not others. There are over 55 families who would love to have the same level of attention,” Whelan said.
Whelan added that his brother had written to Biden, as well as Donald Trump when he was president, and members of Congress on several occasions.
“I was amazed this morning to hear about this call and it made me wonder: should we push for a meeting with the president? Is that what it will take to bring my brother home? What I would really like to see is a working process that doesn’t require that,” Whelan continued.
David Whelan echoed his sister, telling CNN’s “New Day” on Thursday that he was glad to hear about Griner’s appeal but lamented the “inconsistency” of the administration.
“I was thrilled that President Biden and Vice President Harris took the time to speak with Ms. Griner,” Whelan said.
“I think the frustration, to the extent that it exists, is directed at the inconsistency in how the US government interacts with the families of wrongful detainees,” Whelan added.
Biden spoke to Griner’s wife on Wednesday and also sent a letter to Griner herself.
“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” the White House said in a statement. “He also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending today to Brittney Griner.”
Griner reportedly pleaded guilty to drug charges on Thursday, but added that she did not intend to act unlawfully, according to The Associated Press.
If found guilty, Griner faces 10 years in prison.
While the White House is working on both cases, it’s unclear whether the government could strike a deal releasing the two Americans at the same time or whether each would be released individually, according to the AP.
Paul Whelan was excluded from a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia in April, which led to the release of Trevor Reed, a veteran of the United States Navy.
Reed told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he initially thought Whelan would also be returning to the United States with him and was disappointed to find that was not the case.
“The point is, the United States should have gotten him out, and we have to get him out at all costs,” Reed said.