WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre faced a flurry of questions Thursday about President Biden’s decision to release notorious arms dealer Victor Boothe as part of a prisoner swap for basketball star Britney Griner — leaving behind fellow Americans Paul Whelan and Mark Fogel.
“It was Brittney or nobody at all and we don’t apologize for it,” Jean-Pierre said at his next press briefing.
Jean-Pierre added that the Kremlin is “unwilling to negotiate in good faith” about releasing questions about Fogel, who was jailed this year for possessing small amounts of money, like Whelany, who was charged with Russian espionage, and Griner. amount of marijuana.
Griner, 32, pleaded guilty to possessing a small amount of cannabis oil when he was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in July.
“If you’re a celebrity or a professional athlete, how do you dispel the public perception that you’re getting preferential treatment in that situation?” asked CBS reporter Weijia Jiang.
“It wasn’t a choice for us which American to bring home. It wasn’t a choice. It was a choice between bringing home one American or bringing home none. And we brought one home today … just like we managed to bring home Trevor Reed back in April,” answered Jean-Pierre.
“Unfortunately, due to the nature of the completely illegal charges they have brought against Paul, the Russians are treating this situation differently than Britney and we have not been able to secure her release,” he added. “We have made any offer to secure Paul’s release. But there was no way to bring Paul home now.”
Whelan, 52, was born in Canada and served in the Marine Corps during the Iraq War. He was arrested in Russia in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage. His protector said he was caught with a thumb drive containing “state secrets”, but claimed that Whelan was given the files in order after being told that the drive contained pictures of churches.
Jean-Pierre did not directly challenge Fogel’s detention, unlike the cases of Griner and Whelan, which the State Department did not formally declare an illegal detention.
Fogel, 61, was arrested in August 2021 for possession of 17 grams of medical marijuana. The former history teacher, like Griner, was arrested in Moscow when the cauldron was found in his trunk.
“Have there been similar actions in this regard? [the release of] Was Mark Fogel, an American in Russia, also arrested on marijuana charges? How is his work different – or why? [are] Are Mark Fogel’s actions any different? asked NPR’s Franco Ordonez.
“We take seriously our responsibility to assist US citizens abroad and will continue to monitor the situation. For any clarification regarding Mark Fogel or others, I would refer you to the State Department for more information on these specific circumstances,” Jean-Pierre said.
“Every case is different. In each case, I have different ways of talking about them. So I don’t want to go any further than that. So I would refer you to the State Department.”
“But do you see the difference between Griner’s work and Fogel’s work?” Ordonez clicked.
“No, I’m not saying that. I mean, sometimes we can’t talk about that person… There are reasons for that – for their own safety, for their privacy, – said Jean-Pierre.
Geoff Earle of the Daily Mail later reported that “he is serving 14 years in prison for less than an ounce. You say he was wrongfully arrested?
“For now, I cannot talk about the work of any individual. I would refer you to the State Department. Everyone’s classification is different… But we want Americans to know that their safety and security is one of our top priorities,” Jean-Pierre said.
Biden faced blowback from Congress for trailing Whelan and Fogel.
“I don’t think about Paul Whelan because he was abandoned by the Biden administration.” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said“I will continue to advocate tirelessly for the release of Mark Fogel of Pittsburgh and for the State Department to classify him as wrongfully detained, something they have failed to do since his arrest in August 2021.”