About Brittney Griner’s Return From Russia

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

WNBA star Brittney Griner is back in the United States after the U.S. conducted a prison swap with Russia. Griner, arrested 10 months ago and sentenced to nine years for having vape canisters and cannabis oil in her luggage, boarded a plane for San Antonio on Thursday. Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens told CNN’s Dana Bash that Griner couldn’t wait to chat.

Carstens said, “When she finally got on to the U.S. plane, I said, ‘Brittany, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We’ll give you your space.’ And she said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk. But first of all, who are these guys?’ And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing. And then later on, on an 18-hour flight, she probably spent 12 hours just talking and we talked about everything under the sun.”

There has been criticism that the U.S. agreed to release Viktor Bout in a swap for Griner.

During a Sunday appearance on ABC News’ “This Week,” John Kirby, the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, told host Martha Raddatz, “He would have gone free anyway in 2029. He wasn’t serving a life sentence. … Nobody’s doing backflips over there about the fact that Mr. Bout is a free man six years earlier than he would have been. But we’re going to protect our national security. And if Mr. Bout decides to go back to his previous line of work, then we’re going to do what we need to do to hold him accountable and to protect our interests.”

As far as Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison in 2020 after being convicted of spying, Kirby told Raddatz, “It was clear that they were treating Paul very separately, very distinctly because of these sham espionage charges they levied against him.”

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Bharara was the one who prosecuted Bout. He told moderator Chuck Todd, “(Bout was a) dangerous man. Look, everyone is happy. If you’re an American — or not an American — that Brittney Griner, who was I think unfairly, illegitimately detained in Russia, is back home with her family. We’re happy for her, happy for her family.

At the same time, you might imagine that not as just a general prosecutor, but the prosecutor who oversaw the prosecution and conviction of Viktor Bout, has a view about how dangerous a person he was. As you said, (he was) someone who’s convicted at trial by a unanimous jury of conspiracy to kill Americans. He was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. He’s on tape with confidential informants, planning to sell hundreds of surface-to-air missiles to the FARC, also sell 30,000 AK-47s to the FARC for the stated purpose of shooting down American helicopters in Colombia. So he was a dangerous man then. I don’t know how dangerous he is now. People of good faith can in good faith ask questions and be concerned about it even when we’re very, very happy that Brittney Griner is back in the U.S.”

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