Ex-president condemns ‘one-sided’ prisoner swap with Moscow that left US Marine behind
Swapping a top prisoner for a basketball player while leaving a Marine in a Russian prison is an embarrassing and stupid deal, former US President Donald Trump said on Thursday, as ruling Democrats hailed the swap as a triumph for black and LGBT Americans.
“What kind of deal is it to trade Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our country, for the man known as ‘The Merchant of Death,’ who is one of the biggest dealers in weapons in the world and responsible for tens of thousands of horrific deaths and injuries,” Trump said in a post on his Truth Social website.
“Why wasn’t former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally unilateral transaction? He was reportedly released on request. What a “stupid” and unpatriotic embarrassment for the United States!!!” added the 45th president.
Russian national Viktor Bout was arrested by US agents in Thailand in 2008 and convicted in 2012 of arms trafficking. Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in early February and convicted in August of drug trafficking. Both were pardoned ahead of the swap, which took place in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.
A video of the exchange, taken on the tarmac in Dubai, was released on Thursday evening, with the faces of the participating US and Russian officials blurred for privacy.
Griner was traveling to Russia to moonlight for a basketball club there. During her WNBA regular season, she was one of the athletes who knelt for the national anthem at games to protest racism against African Americans. Trump criticized their protests as unpatriotic.
Whelan is a retired American sailor who was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian penal colony. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Told to reporters Thursday afternoon that the Joe Biden administration is considering Russian accusations against Whelan “completely illegitimate” but was presented with the choice to bring Griner back “or no one.”
“On a personal note, Brittney is more than an athlete, more than an Olympian, she is an important role model, an inspiration to millions of Americans, especially LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color,” added Jean-Pierre, the first black lesbian to speak for the White House.
Griner was “free to go home to his wife the same day we passed the Marriage Protection Act”, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters. The bill is a major victory for Democrats, who wanted to pass it to ensure that same-sex marriage in the United States is no longer a matter of legal precedent.
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