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Members of Congress respond to Brittney Griner’s release, share skepticism over deal

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Members of Congress celebrated Brittney Griner’s freedom from Russian detention, though some were concerned about the terms of her release.

‘First of all, I’m glad she’s out,’ Alabama Sen. Tuberville told Fox News. ‘I just don’t think it was apples for apples. We freed the ‘Merchant of Death.”

Griner, the WNBA player arrested in February for bringing cannabis products through a Moscow airport, was freed from a Russian penal colony Thursday in a prisoner exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the ‘Merchant of Death.’ 

Bout was serving a 25-year sentence in U.S. prison after being convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to deliver anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization.

‘Wherever in the world that Americans are wrongfully detained, we need to get them home,’ said Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico. ‘We needed to get her home, and I’m just grateful to everyone that played a part in getting this done.’

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said: ‘It’s easy to second guess, but we traded the ‘Merchant of Death,’ and I was hoping we’d get more.’

Some members of Congress were concerned the deal did not include Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian prison on espionage charges. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia is treating Whelan’s case ‘differently’ than Griner’s.

‘I wholeheartedly wish we could’ve brought Paul home today on the same plane as Brittney,’ Blinken said.

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday: ‘Unfortunately, the choice became to either bring Brittney home or no one.’

Republican Nicole Malliotakis of New York told Fox News, ‘It’s always great to see an American come home. But I just believe this was a bad deal. At a minimum, we should have gotten our U.S. Marine home as well.’

Rep. Scott Fitzgerald agreed.

‘Paul Whelan should be home and should have been part of this deal,’ the Republican said.

President Biden told reporters at a press conference Thursday it ‘was not a choice of which American to bring home.’ 

‘I don’t want any American to sit wrongfully detained … one extra day if we can bring that person home,’ he added. 

Griner’s incarceration was an ‘unacceptable violation of human rights,’ Sen. Ed Markey told Fox News. 

The Massachusetts Democrat called the charges against the WNBA star ‘spurious’ and said this saga ‘shows the depths of depravity of the Russian government.’

Tuberville said, ‘I think we got the short end of the stick, and it kind of shows the leadership of the Biden administration.’

To see members of Congress give their opinions on the release of Griner, click here. 

Kelly Laco, Paul Best, and Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.

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