Following a Wednesday White House press statement touting a call President Biden made to the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is sitting in a Russian jail after pleading guilty to drug charges in Moscow, the sister of a former Marine, imprisoned in Russia on charges of espionage, said she is “astonished” and “crushed” that her family didn’t receive a similar presidential nod of concern.
In December 2018, Paul Whelan was arrested at a Moscow hotel and charged with being a U.S. spy. Though he repeatedly insisted he was innocent, the former soldier was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years of hard labor in a prison camp that resides in the Republic of Mordovia, according to the Daily Mail.
Brittney Griner, on the other hand, is facing 10 years behind Russian bars after telling authorities that she’d packed her bags in a hurry and didn’t mean to bring two vape cartridges loaded with cannabis oil into their country.
WNBA’s Brittney Griner ‘terrified’ she might rot in Russian prison, begs Biden for help: ‘I voted for you’ https://t.co/WegJylsxea
— American Wire News (@americanwire_) July 5, 2022
While the Whelan family continues to hear crickets from Pennsylvania Avenue, both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made a point of speaking to Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle.
“President Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, spoke today with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner who is wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances,” the White House readout read. “The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world.”
The White House noted that Biden has penned a personal letter for Brittney.
.@POTUS, joined by @VP, spoke with detained WNBA star Brittney Griner's wife today, per the WH. He told Cherelle Griner he is working to secure BG's release and that of Paul Whelan and other wrongful detainees abroad, and read her a draft of the letter he is sending BG today pic.twitter.com/duExCr2Wgf
— Jennifer Hansler (@jmhansler) July 6, 2022
“The President offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home,” the statement continued. “… The President directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible.”
In response to the readout, Elizabeth Whelan, sister to Paul, tweeted, “Still looking for that press release saying @POTUS has spoken to anyone in OUR family about #PaulWhelan, wrongfully detained in #Russia for 3.5 years.”
“I am crushed,” Paul’s sibling said. “If he wants to talk about securing Paul’s release, he needs to be talking to the Whelans! What are we to think?!”
I am crushed. If he wants to talk about securing Paul's release, he needs to be talking to the Whelans! What are we to think?! https://t.co/jTirLwAHyF
— elizabethwhelan (@elizabethwhelan) July 6, 2022
Later, on CNN, the frustrated sister wanted to clarify her point.
“I was astonished to hear about this call and it did make me wonder,” she said. “Should we be pushing for a meeting with the president? Is that what it’s going to take to bring my brother home?”
Thank you so much @ericarhill @TheLeadCNN for speaking with me today about wrongful detention and #PaulWhelan, still being held in Russia after 3.5 years. We are very grateful for your time and interest — Americans held by regimes around the world need to be brought home. https://t.co/uk0sOzxjhb
— elizabethwhelan (@elizabethwhelan) July 7, 2022
“What I’d really like to see,” she continued, “is a functioning process that didn’t require that.”
Over on CBS, Elizabeth’s brother — Paul’s twin — David Whelan insisted the family’s anger is not directed at Ms. Griner, but towards Joe Biden and his infamous predecessor.
“I don’t begrudge Ms. Griner and her supporters their success in getting the president’s attention while he ignores so many other families,” he said, adding, “It suggests the only way to get the White House’s attention, under President Trump or President Biden, is to have celebrity and wealth and resources that most wrongful detainees do not have.”
The brother of Paul Whelan, a former marine detained in Russia, tells CBS News it "absolutely doesn't bother" him that WNBA star Brittney Griner's case has been getting more attention than his brother's, because "her celebrity has helped to raise awareness about Paul's case." pic.twitter.com/Ot6Yebjx6J
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 7, 2022
“It’s really wonderful,” Elizabeth said of Griner’s resources. “They have resources far beyond what our family does. Our concern is, why the outreach to some families and not others?”
“There are 55-plus families that would like to have that same attention,” she noted, referring to what she believes is the number of Americans currently being detained in Russian jails and prisons.
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