Brittney Griner is back on U.S. soil after a prisoner swap with Russia, exchanging the WNBA star for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is leading the charge in denouncing President Joe Biden for getting Griner back to the U.S.
“Another reason to impeach Biden,” she tweeted yesterday.
But even as Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner, who appeared alongside Biden for the announcement Thursday, as well as fans and supporters of the WNBA player cheered the news, right-wing politicians and media figures attacked the deal, often in partisan and politically incendiary terms. Criticism centered largely on Griner’s politics, her identity, and on the fact that the Biden administration was unable to secure the release of another American being held in Russia, Paul Whelan.
“The President of the United States traded Russian terrorist arms dealer, Viktor Bout, left a U.S. Marine in Russian jail, and brought home a professional basketball player,” Greene tweeted on Thursday. “How many people will Viktor Bout now kill bc Biden set him free?”
Another reason to impeach Biden.
The President of the United States traded Russian terrorist arms dealer, Viktor Bout, left a U.S. Marine in Russian jail, and brought home a professional basketball player.
How many people will Viktor Bout now kill bc Biden set him free?
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) December 8, 2022
U.S. officials have said that, despite their efforts, the Russians were unwilling to negotiate Whelan’s release. The former marine is four years into a 16-year sentence on espionage charges. Whelan and U.S. officials deny that he was working as a spy in Russia.
Whelan was arrested in 2018, during the Trump administration. Many of the critics of the Griner deal are expressing concern for Whelan for the first time.
While he expressed frustration that the U.S. was unable to secure his release, Whelan acknowledged to CNN Thursday that Russia considers him more valuable. “They’ve put me at a level higher than what they did with Trevor [Reed] and Brittney,” he said. “And they’re trying to get out of United States, what the United States may not be able to provide, but this is basically political extortion.”
“This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home,” a U.S. senior administration official said on Thursday. “It was a choice between bringing home one particular American – Brittney Griner – or bringing home none.”
Another senior U.S. official told NBC News they had tried everything they could to get Whelan out, but Russia is “treating him differently. They say he is an espionage case. They said the choice was either one [Griner] or none.”
Whelan’s family also saluted the Biden administration for making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”
None of this has stopped those on the right from turning Griner’s release into yet another partisan issue, however.
“What kind of a deal is it to swap Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our country for the man known as ‘The Merchant of Death,’” former president Donald Trump wrote in a post on his Twitter clone, Truth Social. “Why wasn’t former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking. What a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!”
Reminder that despite being besties with Putin, Trump failed to bring Paul Whelan home for more than 2 years pic.twitter.com/dc6V3ocyiC
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 8, 2022
Notably, Trump’s own former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, told CBS on Friday that the former president turned down the chance to swap Whelan for Bout in 2018.
Other right-wing figures attacked Griner personally for her protests against the police killings of unarmed Black Americans.
“I wonder if Brittney Griner will sing and stand for the National Anthem now that the United States has compromised national security to free her?” tweeted Tomi Lahren.
I wonder if Brittney Griner will sing and stand for the National Anthem now that the United States has compromised national security to free her?… #BrittneyGriner
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) December 8, 2022
“We get an awful America hating WNBA player, while Russia gets an INTERNATIONAL ARMS DEALER!!!” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.
No one cuts better deals than Biden. We get an awful America hating WNBA player, while Russia gets an INTERNATIONAL ARMS DEALER!!! The adults are back! https://t.co/zPMKzuB2SA
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) December 8, 2022
“She hates the country so much she doesn’t want to hear its anthem. That’s the kind of position that gets you rewarded by Joe Biden,” Tucker Carlson ranted on his Fox News show Thursday night. He went on to imply that the Biden administration prioritized Griner’s release because she is Black and a lesbian, and that Whelan was left behind because he voted for Trump.
“The fact is in our country some people are more equal than others, and that is the people of the left are clearly viewed as superior to everybody else,” said Fox News host Mark Levin. “I’m sure Brittney Griner will go back to being an anti-American reprobate. But that’s okay. You see? It’s okay. And if you disagree with this, you’re obviously a white supremacist or a racist. There could be no other explanation.”
Hosts on right-wing news outlets Newsmax and Real America’s Voice called Griner a “pothead wokester” and an “entitled, spoiled brat.” Republican lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL), and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) also criticized the trade.