Trump says he turned down deal that would have freed Paul Whelan in exchange for ‘Merchant of Death’
Former President Donald Trump claimed on Sunday that he turned down a deal that would have freed a former Marine in exchange for a notorious Russian arms dealer.
The ex-president took to his social media platform, Truth Social, over the weekend to criticize his successor’s decision to release Viktor Bout in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Trump said he denied a deal that would have freed Bout — who has been dubbed the Death Dealer because of his arms deals with a Colombian drug cartel and terror groups — in exchange for Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who serves more than a decade in a gulag on espionage charges that U.S. officials say are false.
Still, Trump insists he could have gotten Whelan out of jail and denied that Griner was ever arrested in Russia for smuggling marijuana pens into the country.
His comments, however, come as the Biden administration stresses it is working with its Kremlin counterparts to free Whelan, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying the administration is ‘still negotiating’ his release. .
Former President Donald Trump claimed on Sunday that he had turned down a deal that would have freed Paul Whelan, a former Marine, in exchange for a notorious Russian arms dealer.
Whelan has been held in a Russian penal colony since December 2018, when he was arrested on a trip to Moscow and charged with espionage.
In his article on Truth Social this weekend, Trump called WNBA star Brittney Griner’s prisoner swap “crazy and wrong.”
In his Sunday message, Trump suggested it wasn’t worth freeing the 56-year-old arms dealer in exchange for the former Marine.
‘I wouldn’t have done the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone killing countless people with his arms deals,’ the former president wrote as he claimed he refused the option to release Whelan for Bout.
“I would have gotten Paul out though, as I have done with a record number of other hostages,” he continued, noting, “The deal for Griner is crazy and bad.”
“The take wouldn’t even have happened during my administration,” he claimed, “but if it had, I would have gotten it out, quick!”
But others were quick to point out that when asked about Paul Whelan in 2019, he simply told reporters, “We’re looking into this.”
The former president insisted he would have gotten Whelan out had he been in power
Trump also suggested that Griner would never have been arrested under his presidency.
Some people online were quick to point out that Trump would only say he was ‘considering’ bringing Whelan home when he was president in 2019
Whelan has been held in a Russian penal colony since December 2018, when he was arrested during a trip to Moscow. He was convicted two years later of espionage and was sentenced to 16 years in a maximum security prison.
He has since lost around 20% of his body weight, his brother David revealed in an interview with Good Morning America on Friday, as his family continues to worry about his mental and physical health.
Meanwhile, Griner was just arrested in February, after authorities accused her of carrying drugs – specifically marijuana oil – in her luggage at a Moscow airport.
She later confessed to the crime, in an apparent effort to ask for a lighter sentence.
But after less than a year in Russian prisons, Griner returned to the United States on Friday, December 9.
Griner returned to the United States on Friday, December 9, after serving less than a year in a Russian prison for smuggling marijuana products into the country.
Critics have since swarmed the White House for trading the notorious arms dealer for a women’s basketball star – rather than calling for Whelan’s release.
Some Republicans have even suggested that the president cares more about fame than the US service member, who later told CNN he was being held “hostage” at the penal colony.
He pleaded for the White House to “do everything they can to bring me home” as he faces another 12 years in the gulag.
“I am very disappointed that nothing else has been done to secure my release, especially as the fourth anniversary of my arrest approaches,” Whelan told the outlet in a phone call.
“I was arrested for a crime that never happened. I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” he said.
Whelan then went on to say that he hoped Biden “would do whatever he could to get me home, whatever price he might have to pay at this point.”
Whelan, pictured here awaiting his verdict in 2020, said he was ‘disappointed’ more was not done to secure his release with Griner’s
His remarks, however, came as it was revealed that Pentagon officials had raised concerns with the Biden administration over Bout’s release.
They reportedly warned the president that Bout might start selling arms again now that he is back in his home country.
The so-called death dealer was arrested in 2008 in Thailand and convicted three years later of conspiring to kill Americans by selling tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons to the FARC, a narco-terrorist group in Colombia .
He has also been linked to attempted arms sales to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and was a former intelligence officer in the Soviet Union.
But Bout has repeatedly claimed to be a legitimate businessman and denied having anything to do with the Kremlin.
Viktor Bout was arrested in 2008 in Thailand and convicted three years later of conspiracy to kill Americans by selling tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons to FARC, a narco-terrorist group in Colombia.
Bout was released in a prisoner swap for Griner, despite the US Pentagon’s apparent disapproval
Bout, a notorious arms dealer, is pictured with his wife on his return to Moscow late last week
Still, the prisoner swap was widely mocked in Russia, with locals saying they got the most out of the deal.
“The fact that Russia pushed for the exchange of Bout, which America basically didn’t want to give away for many years, means right now that, like in The Godfather, we made them an offer that can’t be refused”, Maria Butina boasted in Russian on her Telegram channel.
“It’s a position of strength, comrades,” added Butina, who was deported to Russia in 2019 after serving an 18-month sentence in the United States for acting as an unregistered foreign agent during the 2016 presidential election.
And the day after the deal, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was open to doing more prisoner swaps with the United States in the future, signaling that he also believed the country had benefited from the exchange.
“We do not refuse to continue this work in the future,” Putin said after Bout returned home to a hero’s welcome in Moscow and Griner landed in San Antonio, Texas in the early hours of the morning. of Friday.
He said “everything is on the table” and highlighted the “compromises” found in the past.
“It is the result of negotiations and the search for compromise. In this case, compromises have been found and we do not refuse to continue this work in the future,” Putin told reporters at a press conference in Kyrgyzstan on Friday morning.
A senior White House official also told CNN on Friday that he believes Moscow will continue to broker a deal on Whelan because there are “things they want in this world.”
“We’ve been open to talking about what’s actually available to us and only got in response a request for something that’s not available to us,” the manager said.