San Antonio, Texas —Arrived in the United States early Friday, landing at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.
The WNBA star, who spent months in a Russian prison on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-on-one prisoner swap for notorious international arms dealerending an ordeal that sparked intense high-level talks between Washington and Moscow to secure her freedom.
Griner is expected to undergo a medical evaluation soon, as is standard procedure for released U.S. prisoners.
president biden“She’s safe. She’s on the plane. She’s on her way home,” he said Thursday morning at the White House.
“Unjustly detained in Russia for months under intolerable circumstances, Britney will soon be returned to the arms of her loved ones, where she should have been,” Mr. Biden said . “This is a day we’ve worked for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release.”
CBS News was first to report the exchange, which took place in the United Arab Emirates, citing a U.S. official as saying.Five former U.S. officials told CBS News that the agreement has reached last Thursday.
The president said he spoke with Griner by phone from the Oval Office, and he was also on the phone with Griner’s wife, Cherrell, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Griner is expected to undergo a medical evaluation soon, as is standard procedure for released U.S. prisoners.
Mr. Biden said he was “pleased to be able to say that Britney is in good spirits.” He dismissed the “open trial in Russia” that landed her in jail and said “she didn’t ask for special treatment”.
To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout’s release and his return to Russia. Biden signed a commutation order that shortened Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence.
Notably, the Griner-for-Bout swap leaves retired US Marinesimprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years.he America calls it false.
“We haven’t forgotten Paul Whelan,” Mr Biden said on Thursday, adding that “we will never give up” securing his release.
U.S. officials told reporters that it was clear during talks with the Russians that the prospect of releasing Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout was not a viable option, with one official saying the U.S. “could choose to bring a particular American home – Bran Griner—or bring home nothing.”
Whelan told CNN by phone Thursday that he was glad Griner was released, but said he was “very disappointed that more was not done to secure my release, especially with the fourth anniversary of my arrest approaching.” occasion.”
WNBA Phoenix Mercury star center Greiner, 32, was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges after a cartridge of marijuana-derived oil was found in his luggage. Griner said she didn’t want to take the cartridges with her when she traveled to the country during the WNBA offseason to play in the Russian basketball league.
After five months of diplomatic stagnation and various permutations of potential swap arrangements — including a previously unreported U.S. proposal last summer to return two prisoners to Russia for two Americans — the sources said, One-to-one exchanges are in the last two weeks.
Whelan, who works as a security contractor for a company, was in Moscow attending a friend’s wedding in December 2018 when he was detained in a hotel. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage – charges the US and Whelan deny. This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s detention in Russia.
Bout, who was most recently held at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by the Thai Drug Enforcement Agency following a 2008 sting operation. He was convicted of conspiracy to kill an American and began serving a 25-year sentence a decade ago.
Griner’s arrest coincides with the start of February, and all U.S. dealings with the Kremlin are complicated by the conflict. The U.S. says both Griner and Whelan have been “mistakenly detained,” and officials suspect Russia has been using U.S. prisoners as leverage.
Greener’s return to Bout marks the Biden administration’s second prisoner swap with Russia. In April, the U.S. traded Russian smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of conspiring to import cocaine,a former U.S. Marine who was imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years.
CBS News learned last Thursday that a Griner-for-Bout deal was imminent, but agreed to a White House request to suspend reporting because officials expressed serious concerns about the fragility of the then-nascent deal.
Biden administration officials have warned that releasing details of the swap ahead of time would almost certainly lead to Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement and could jeopardize Greiner’s well-being.
Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Camilla Schick, Tucker Reals, Haley Ott, Melissa Quinn and Caitlin Yilek contributed to the report.