Former United States marine Paul Whelan was not included in a prisoner swap with Phoenix Mercury forward Brittney Griner that was seen as an “all-or-nothing” release between the United States and Russian governments, according to a tweet from ESPN Investigative Reporter T.J. Quinn.
“Sources are saying the US had been pushing to bring Griner and Paul Whelan home together, but Russian officials said it’s this deal or nothing,” Quinn wrote. “The US decided to make the deal. Whelan’s family says they understand and the (White House) did the right thing.”
Whelan was originally arrested in a Moscow hotel in 2018 before being convicted of espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.
A Thursday tweet from USA Today echoed Quinn’s statement, saying the Russian government was handling the Whelan case more carefully than Griner’s.
“They say he is an espionage case,” a senior United States official told NBC News. “They said the choice was either one (Griner) or none.”
Brittney Griner was released for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was once considered the “world’s most wanted man” before he was arrested in 2008 for multiple arms trafficking-related charges.
Paul Whelan’s family was told in advance that he would not be a part of the Griner-Bout release, according to a Thursday report from NBC News. The early warning provided ample time for David Whelan, brother of Paul Whelan, to “mentally prepare” for the disappointment and a “catastrophe for Paul” when the news was finally released to the American public.
“I do not know if (Paul Whelan) is aware yet,” David Whelan said. “Although he will surely learn from Russian media.”
David Whelan said there was “no greater success” than for a wrongful detainee in Brittney Griner to be freed and sent home in a Thursday statement, adding he supported the Biden administration’s decision to go for a deal that was possible rather than waiting to achieve the impossible.