Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called the prisoner exchange of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA star Brittney Griner a "deeply disturbing decision," the Daily Wire reported. Menendez, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made these remarks Thursday following her release.
"This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize we have a serious problem with hostage-taking of Americans," a statement from Menendez said on the day of Griner's release. "The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griners of the world and people like Viktor Bout, the so-called 'Merchant of Death,'" he pointed out.
"Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision," Menendez said. "We must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips, and we must try to do better at encouraging American citizens against traveling to places like Russia where they are primary targets for this type of unlawful detention," the New Jersey lawmaker continued.
While President Joe Biden pulled strings for Griner, American and Marine veteran Paul Whelan was left to rot in a Russian jail. Menendez also addressed that fact in his statement.
"My heart also goes out to the families of other American citizens in Russian prisons and labor camps, including Paul Whelan," he said. "They have my renewed commitment and determination to use the power of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to secure Mr. Whelan's safe return and to continue fighting for the release of all Russian political prisoners, like Vladimir Kara Murza, and all other unjustly detained Americans," Menedez concluded.
After the news broke, CNN asked Whelan for his opinion on the swap. "I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up," he said.
"I was arrested for a crime that never occurred," Whelan added. "I don't understand why I'm still sitting here."
Griner was arrested in Russia in February for possession of cannabis oil vape cartridges. She already had a conviction stateside for domestic violence.
It seems President Joe Biden's administration couldn't make a worse deal if they tried. Bout is a notorious terrorist but was set free to allow Griner, who protested during our nation's anthem, to come back to the country she's often derided, Fox News reported.
Still, the White House was ecstatic over making such a poor trade and attempted to spin it as a win for America. "President Biden keeps his promises, and today he fulfilled a deeply important promise to bring Brittney Griner home to a family that loves her, a team that misses her, and a country that has marveled at her strength and courage," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a White House briefing.
"Throughout her ordeal, we saw Brittney, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for team USA, demonstrate strength, courage, and dignity," Jean-Pierre continued. "As the president said this morning, she represents the best of America," she added.
As if that wasn't distasteful enough, Jean-Pierre threw in her own praise of the situation. "On a personal note, Brittney is more than an athlete, more than an Olympian," she said.
"She is an important role model and inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color. She should never have been detained by Russia," Jean-Pierre claimed. "And we are — I am — deeply proud of the work that the President has done, this administration has done to get her home," she added.
Any American detained unfairly overseas is one too many. However, it seems the administration gave Griner preferential treatment, and even a Democrat like Menendez can see the problem for what it is.