Trump wasn’t ‘particularly interested’ in releasing Whelan

  • Fiona Hill said some US citizens imprisoned in Russia are caught up in “political games”.
  • Critics including Trump have questioned why Brittney Griner was released while Paul Whelan remains in jail.
  • Hill said Trump was not “particularly interested in Paul [Whelan]’s case” during his tenure.

As critics including Donald Trump question why Brittney Griner was freed in a prisoner swap with Russia while Paul Whelan remains imprisoned, current and former National Security Council officials say such negotiations are not are not so simple.

Griner was released from Russian custody on Thursday after spending 10 months in custody, charged with large-scale drug transport after Russian officials said vaping cartridges containing hash oil were found in her luggage at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.

In exchange, the United States freed notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, often referred to by the nickname “merchant of death”.

Although Whelan’s release was the subject of ongoing negotiations between the Biden administration and Russian officials, he was not included in the prisoner swap. The former US Marine has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 after being convicted of espionage which he vehemently denies.

The Biden administration promised Whelan “we’re picking you up” and urged him to “keep the faith” after Whelan expressed he was “disappointed” that not enough had been done to secure his freedom.

“America hating the basketball player for the ‘Death Merchant,’ especially when the ex-Marine isn’t even included, is a one-sided disaster and a BIG VICTORY FOR RUSSIA,” Trump posted on Truth Social. “If I made this deal, the Democrats would chant RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA!”

Other Republicans also criticized the deal, with Representative Mike Waltz of Florida calling the trade “shameful” and wondering why a “celebrity” is released rather than a veteran, and Representative Tim Walberg of Michigan adding that “President Biden left Paul Whelan behind”.

“SO @POTUS just traded an enemy who smuggles guns and helps shoot Americans for an American who smuggles drugs and shoots basketballs, while a former US Marine, Paul Whelan , rots in a Russian prison”, tweeted Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. “Let it sink in.”

However, National Security Council communications chief John Kirby told ‘Fox News Sunday’ that the Whelan trade was “never a choice made by the Russians”.

“They’re treating Paul differently because of these bogus espionage charges,” Kirby said. “He is classified in this special category by the Russians.”

During an appearance on Face the Nation, Fiona Hill, who served as chair and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council from 2017 to 2019, said the prospect of Whelan’s release was “raised to repeatedly by the Russians” during his time working for the Trump administration, but the deal never went through.

“I also have to say here that President Trump was not particularly interested in engaging in this trade for Paul Whelan,” Hill said. “He wasn’t particularly interested in Paul’s case as one might think.”

Hill added that negotiations surrounding Whelan, who she said was “set up” for espionage, were treated differently from “very minor offenses” as in the case of Griner and former Marine Trevor Reed, who was released in April in an exchange for convicted drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko.

However, she added, Whelan, Griner and Reed were all caught up in what she called “political games” while doing things that “seemed quite ordinary”.

“And we have to be aware that when governments do this, they do it for commercial gain, but they also do it to disturb our politics,” Hill said. “And we fall into the trap every time – the more we fight against each other, the more we play into their hands. And we also risk kidnapping other Americans, because it is a way of influencing our domestic policy.”

Representatives for Hill and Trump did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button