Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that securing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner from Russia is a “priority” but offered no details as to how that might happen.
“I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that he had talked to Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, “just a few days ago.”
Griner, 31, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA all-star who, like many other top women’s basketball players, plays overseas during the league’s offseason to earn additional money. Russia’s government announced in March that it had detained Griner at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow on drug charges in mid-February. Russian officials said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil.
CNN host Jake Tapper asked if there might be a swap of prisoners, with Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan (detained in Moscow in 2018) returning home to the United States in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was convicted in Manhattan federal court in 2011.
Blinken did not say one way or the other.
“As a general proposition, Jake,” Blinken replied, “I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home. And that includes Paul Whelan. That includes Brittney Griner. That includes people in a number of other countries.”
The House on Friday passed a resolution introduced by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) calling for her immediate release. “I’ve been lucky enough to watch Brittney develop and grow as a professional athlete, but also as a leader here in Phoenix,” Stanton tweeted after her arrest. “We won’t stop working until she’s safely home with her family.”