Rep. Kinzinger welcomes Griner’s release but fears prisoner swap could encourage more hostage-taking

Rep. Adam Kinzinger on Sunday celebrated the release of Brittney Griner from Russia, but said he was concerned about future “ramifications” of prisoner swaps like the one that won Griner freedom.

“We can be happy that she’s home, and we are, but also recognize that we’re changing our non-negotiating policy and that could have real ramifications going forward,” said Kinzinger, R- Ill., to ABC’s “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

In exchange for Griner’s release – after she pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges for inadvertently smuggling a vape cartridge containing hash oil into Russia – the US released the former notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans, supplying anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization.

Kinzinger, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is among those criticizing the deal, in part because it did not include Navy veteran Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia for about four years. for espionage charges that the White House says are false. .

After learning that the WNBA star was returning to the United States, Kinzinger tweeted a letter Whelan wrote to him in 2019 and addressed a message to President Joe Biden: “There is no room for weakness when it comes to the lives of innocent Americans.”

Raddatz noted that the Biden administration defended the swap, saying it was either no Americans or just Griner’s return — that Russia would not agree to release Whelan. Raddatz asked Kinzinger if the government should have continued to push for Whelan as well or left Griner behind.

In this Oct. 20, 2022, file photo, Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Utah Senate candidate Evan McMullin hold a discussion about democracy and the future of the U.S. political system at the Salt Lake City Public Library in Salt Lake City.

Bill Clark/CQ roll call via AP, FILE

“It’s neither,” Kinzinger said, adding, “We love Brittney’s house.”

But he cited both the case of Whelan and that of Marc Fogel, a teacher sentenced to 14 years in a Russian penal colony for marijuana. “The question is, where is he in those negotiations as well?” said Kinzinger.

“It’s a tough decision you have to make,” he acknowledged, but said the Biden administration had been too accommodating in its approach.

“If you make it clear that you’re ready to take a deal no matter what, you’ll get a bad deal,” he said.

“I worry about the implications this could have for a future hostage situation if a country decides that we have someone in our motorcade that they want to recover, they could of course arrest anyone and think that we would negotiate his departure,” he said. .

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in his own “This Week” appearance on Sunday that the administration acknowledges arguments similar to Kinzinger’s but that President Biden has challenged. place “responsibility measures” to make the act of hostage-taking more difficult. .

Kinzinger, however, said Griner’s case could embolden bad actors.

“We have to acknowledge with wide eyes that at this time as Americans we have made it clear that we are prepared to do anything to bring a single American home. And there are people who look at this,” he said.

Importance of possible criminal references on January 6

Kinzinger was also asked about “This Week” on the House Jan. 6 committee, of which he is a member, which is completing its report and assessing possible criminal credentials after about 18 months of investigation.

Kinzinger said he didn’t want to preempt the panel’s decision, but that any reference related to the Capitol attack would be a way to highlight where federal law enforcement should be directing their parallel investigation.

“Criminal dismissals themselves are not necessarily something that will wake up [the Department of Justice] up to something they didn’t know before,” he said. “But I think it’s going to be an important symbolic thing that the committee can do — or even more than symbolic, just very clear that Congress thinks a crime has been committed here and the DOJ should investigate.”

The question of possible referrals to the Department of Justice has long hovered over the committee’s work. Its report is expected to be released on December 21.

“It’s about telling the American people what happened and giving them the opportunity to say, ‘Democracies may have bad days, but the way we come back from those bad days is the way we will be defined,'” Kinzinger said.

ABC News

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