President Biden calls Paul Whelan’s sister after growing pressure from family

President Joe Biden called Paul Whelan’s sister on Friday to reaffirm his commitment to bringing the former Marine back from Russia, according to a White House official, marking the first time the family has been contacted by the president.

“Today President Biden called Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan wrongfully detained by Russia since 2018,” a White House official said.

The call comes two days after his sister expressed his disappointment on Twitter after learning that the president and vice president had called the wife of Brittney Griner, a WNBA star detained in Russia since February 17.

“Still looking for that press release saying @POTUS told anyone in OUR family about #PaulWhelan, wrongfully detained in #Russia for 3.5 years,” Elizabeth Whelan said on Twitter Wednesday.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine charged with espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands in the defendants’ cage as he waits to hear his verdict in Moscow on June 15, 2020.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

During their Friday call, Biden “reaffirmed his commitment to bringing Paul home as soon as possible, and the U.S. government will continue its efforts to secure the release of Paul as well as Brittney Griner and all other Americans being held.” hostage or wrongfully detained around the world,” a White House official said.

“The U.S. government will continue to be in regular contact with Paul’s family, as well as the families of other Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to provide support and assistance and to keep them informed of the efforts to secure the release of their loved ones,” he added. said the official.

Paul Whelan’s twin brother, David Whelan, told ABC News the family was not expecting the call – and that his sister was on a noisy New York street when it happened. He said the call is especially meaningful for their parents.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that White House officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, had been in contact with Elizabeth Whelan.

ABC News’ Rachel Scott pressed Jean-Pierre on what it takes to get a meeting or a phone call from the president to try to help someone get released from Russian custody and how this administration can assure the Whelan family that their pleas are heard and taken seriously.

“We want to assure them, the Whelans and the Griner family, and all other … American nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, that this president is doing everything he can to s ensure they get home safely,” says Jean-Pierre. “We are going to use all the means at our disposal. Obviously, we cannot negotiate in public. It is not something that we are going to do. But we are committed to ensuring that they all go home. safely. “

PICTURED: Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, is escorted for a hearing to decide whether to extend his detention at Lefortovo court in Moscow, October 24, 2019.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, is escorted for a hearing to decide whether to extend his detention at Lefortovo court in Moscow, October 24, 2019.

Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Corporate security manager Paul Whelan, 52, was arrested in December 2018 on his way to Moscow for a friend’s wedding and accused of spying by Russian intelligence agents. In June 2020, he was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison camp.

Paul Whelan and US officials denied the charges, and his family continued to demand his release.

In April, another former Marine – Trevor Reed – was released after being imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years as part of an agreed prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia.

Reed, 30, was arrested in Moscow in the summer of 2019 while visiting his Russian girlfriend. Russian authorities accused him of assaulting officers as he was driven to a police station after a night of heavy drinking. He was found guilty by a Russian court in mid-2020 and sentenced to nine years in a prison camp.

“The real fear that you have that kind of sits on top of you like that weight all the time is that, you know, you could be here forever,” Reed told ‘Good Morning America’. in an interview aired on Friday.

Griner’s trial is ongoing. The two-time Olympic gold medalist pleaded guilty this week in a Russian court to drug trafficking, saying vaping cartridges containing hashish oil were unwittingly found in her luggage.

His legal team told ABC News in a statement Thursday that his “guilty” plea was informed by a discussion with his Russian lawyers.

If convicted, Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison.

Amid renewed attention on Whelan’s case, his family remains hopeful that President Biden can bring him home.

“I think he’s a good, kind person, and he’ll make the decision to bring Paul home when there’s an opportunity to do so,” David Whelan said on Friday’s episode of the News Podcast. ABC dailies”start here.”

Cindy Smith of ABC News contributed to this report.

ABC News

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