Russian prisoner Paul Whelan urges US to be ‘tougher’ after Griner trade

The brother of a former Marine now detained in Russia has called on the US to be “more bold” after the administration brokered a prisoner swap with the Kremlin, swapping WNBA star Brittney Griner for Russian arms dealer Victor Booth.

David Whelan told Fox News on Thursday that he believes the Biden administration has done everything it can to negotiate a deal to bring Griner back to the states, but he regrets that his brother Paul remains in Russian custody.

When asked by “The Story” anchor Martha McCallum if he thought the White House should be more aggressive, Whelan said the quick word would be “impactful.”

“I think the U.S. government is a little bit behind the rogue nations that are holding Americans hostage. And the Biden administration has done a good job of getting ahead of that curve over the last few years,” he said.

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Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested on espionage charges, hears his sentencing in the courtroom of the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.
(Photo by Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency via AP, File)

“So we have to give them the next step, which is when they have someone like Paul, who is illegally detained in a country like Russia, how do they have a privilege or how do they have a plan It’s going to be ready to negotiate and bring it home sooner than they do now with someone like Paul who’s been there for years.

Paul Whelan has been in Kremlin custody since he was jailed for 16 years in 2018 for espionage. Griner had been in custody since February after authorities discovered vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil in his luggage.

David Whelan told Fox News that there are many Russian nationals in custody and that the Justice Department has handled extraditions of Russians from other Western countries in the past.

He pointed out that Booth, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” was captured in Thailand and brought to the United States instead of being arrested in the state.

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WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was escorted out of a courtroom in Khimki, Russia.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was escorted out of a courtroom in Khimki, Russia.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

“I think the US government could be more proactive in identifying these people and arresting them and bringing them to justice,” he said. “And certainly, short of becoming our enemy, we don’t want to do what these hostage nations are doing. But we do, I think, have to have a plan for when we’re going to respond when an American is taken hostage.”

President Biden has defended the Booth-Griner trade, saying the Kremlin is treating Whelan’s case differently “for illegitimate reasons” and pointing to the return of another former US Marine, Trevor Reed, from Russia earlier this year.

Whelan, when asked about reports that his brother had been temporarily estranged from his family and moved to a hospital, said the Wagner group, a private Russian mercenary with ties to President Vladimir Putin, had been “hired” in the prison. Paul was arrested.

Whelan said he believed Russian authorities did not want an American prisoner to witness the reported activities of Wagner’s group.

Britney Griner, in red, on the pavement, Victor Bout with an envelope.

Britney Griner, in red, on the pavement, Victor Bout with an envelope.

In the early months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Wagner’s group was accused of sending hundreds of mercenaries to Kiev on a mission to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Still, despite his brother still being held by the Russian government, Paul Whelan still believes in President Biden.

“I trust the president,” Whelan concluded. “I think Mr. Booth is someone who has been in US custody for a long time. He’s older and that’s all I know about him.”

If Biden is willing to make a current trade decision based on the advice of federal experts, “that’s good enough for me,” he added.

Fox News’ Anders Hagstrom contributed to this report.

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