White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday said the case of WNBA star and US olympian Brittney Griner’s continued detention in Russia is “a priority” for Joe Biden and his administration after a letter from the basketball player to the president was made public by her family.
“This is an issue that is a priority for this President,” said Ms Jean-Pierre, who noted that the US has classified Ms Griner as being “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
Ms Griner was detained by Russian customs officials at Sheremetyevo International Airport in February after security services officers reportedly found vaporiser pods containing hash oil in her luggage. Her wife Cherelle has alleged that the Biden administration has not given her situation the attention it deserves due to Ms Griner’s gender, race, and status as an LGBT+ person.
Ms Jean-Pierre said Mr Biden “believes that any US national that is held abroad or detained or held hostage abroad, we need to bring back safely”.
“We are going to use every tool that we possibly can to make that happen,” she said.
She added that Mr Biden has no plans to meet with Ms Griner’s family but said her wife has had two conversations with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in the last ten days and has spoken to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken as well.
“Clearly, we believe she was wrongfully detained, we believe she needs to come home,” Ms Jean-Pierre said, adding that the administration believes “any other US nationals” who are “wrongfully detained abroad” should be brought back to the US, including another American in Russian custody, Paul Whalen.
Pressed further on whether Ms Griner’s case is evidence of a double standard, Ms Jean-Pierre denied any such thing and said Mr Biden is “doing everything he can” for her.
“The White House is closely coordinating as well with the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who has met with Brittney’s family, her teammates and her support network,” she said. “So we’re going to continue to have those conversations and we’re going to make sure that she and others get home safely”.
Ms Jean-Pierre added that the administration would continue to have “honest” and “private” conversations with Ms Griner’s family, as well as the families of other Americans held abroad. But she declined to go into details about any talks between the administration and the detained WNBA star’s relatives.
“All I can confirm is that he’s read the letter and he’s making this a priority,” she said.