White House defends Russian prisoner swap without Whelan, Fogel

WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre faced a barrage of questions Thursday about President Biden’s decision to release notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap for basketball star Brittney Griner — and fellow Americans Paul along with it Leaving Whelan and Marc Fogel behind.

“It was either Brittney or nobody and we will not apologize for that,” Jean-Pierre said at her regular press conference.

Jean-Pierre added that the Kremlin was “unwilling to negotiate in good faith” to release Whelan, whom Russia had found guilty of espionage, and dodged questions about Fogel – who like Griner earlier this year for owning a small one was sentenced to prison amount of marijuana.

Griner, 32, pleaded guilty in July to possession of a small amount of cannabis oil when she was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“How do you dispel the public perception that you, as a celebrity or a professional athlete, are given preferential treatment in a situation like this?” asked CBS journalist Weijia Jiang.

“This was not a choice for us as to which American to bring home. That wasn’t the choice. It was a choice to bring home an American or not to bring home. And we brought one home today…just like we were able to bring Trevor Reed home in April,” Jean-Pierre replied.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Russia will not negotiate Paul Whelan’s release in “good faith”.
Getty Images

“Unfortunately, due to the nature of the totally illegitimate charges they have brought against Paul, the Russians are treating this situation differently than Brittney’s situation and we were unable to secure his release,” she added. “We accepted every possible offer to secure Paul’s release. But at the moment there was no way to bring Paul home.”

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 defense attorney said he was arrested with a USB drive containing “state secrets” but claimed Whelan received the files at a facility after being told the drive had photos of churches.

Jean-Pierre would not deal directly with Fogel’s imprisonment, which, unlike the cases of Griner and Whelan, was not formally declared a wrongful imprisonment by the State Department.

Paul Whelan
Paul Whelan, right, was convicted of espionage but his lawyer said he was framed.
AFP via Getty Images

Fogel, 61, was arrested in August 2021 for possessing 17 grams of what he believed to be medical marijuana. The former history teacher, like Griner, was arrested in Moscow when the pot was found in his luggage.

Fogel was sentenced to 14 years in prison in June — just over a month before Griner was sentenced to nine years. The US government requested Fogel’s release on humanitarian grounds, CNN reported, but reportedly did not include him in any proceedings proposed a two-for-two prisoner swap with Griner and Whelan.

“Have there been similar efforts [the release of] American Marc Fogel, who was also in Russia, was also arrested on marijuana charges? How is his case different – or why? [are] the actions for Marc Fogel different than this?” asked NPR journalist Franco Ordoñez.

Marc Foegel
Marc Fogel, like Griner, was arrested in Russia for possession of a small amount of marijuana.

“We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation. For details on Marc Fogel or others, I would refer you to the State Department for more information on these specific cases,” Jean-Pierre said.

“Each case is different. In any case, there are different ways I can talk about it. I don’t want to anticipate that. So I would refer you to the State Department.”

“But do you see a difference between Griner’s case and Fogel’s case?” Ordoñez urged.

“No, that’s not what I mean. I’m saying that sometimes we’re not able to talk about that particular person… There are reasons for that – for their own safety, for their own privacy,” Jean-Pierre said.

Later, Daily Mail reporter Geoff Earle said: “He’s serving a 14-year sentence for less than an ounce of weed. Would you say he was wrongly imprisoned?”

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout
Biden released “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout in exchange for Brittney Griner.
Twitter / @Saudi01212

“I cannot speak about the specific case of one person at this time. I would refer you to the State Department. Everyone has a different classification… But we want Americans to know that their safety is one of our top priorities,” said Jean-Pierre.

Biden faced backlash from Congress for leaving Whelan and Fogel behind.

“I can’t help but think of Paul Whelan — as it seems he was abandoned by the Biden administration,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said: “I will continue to work tirelessly for the release of Pittsburgh native Marc Fogel and for the State Department to classify him as wrongly imprisoned, which they have not since his incarceration in August 2021 have done. ”

https://nypost.com/2022/12/08/brittney-or-no-one-wh-defends-russia-prisoner-swap-without-whelan-fogel/ White House defends Russian prisoner swap without Whelan, Fogel

JACLYN DIAZ

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