President Biden announced a prisoner swap with Russia on Thursday, offering Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Brittney Griner. Still, some conservatives are amiss that the president excluded American Paul Whelan.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, took to Twitter demanding an answer from the Biden administration on why the Iraq war veteran was excluded from the deal.
"This was likely not a simple ‘choose him or her’ situation. But if it was, you choose the guy that served our country, Paul Whelan. We should get an explanation from this administration immediately," Crenshaw wrote.
Those same sentiments were shared by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, who simply asked: "What about retired marine who has been unjustly detained for years, Paul Whelan?"
He added: "Surely an arms dealer is worth two innocent people?"
In a subsequent tweet, Kinzinger congratulated Griner on her release and defended that calling for Whelan’s release was not "unreasonable."
"It is not in any way partisan, or unreasonable, to both congratulate Brittany on her freedom while being critical that the man who has been in captivity for years, was again skipped over. I have been engaged in this for years after receiving this three years ago today," the Republican lawmaker wrote.
The rep also shared a statement from Jonathan Franks, the spokesperson for Bring Our Families Home, who also congratulated Griner’s release while saying Whelan "deserves better" from the Biden administration.
"We celebrate the long overdue return of Brittney Griner and her safe return home to her wife, family, teammates, and the WNBPA who fought for her relentlessly," the campaign spokesperson said. "While we celebrate Brittney's homecoming, our hearts break for the Whelan family. Paul Whelan has been let down and left behind at least three times by two Presidents."
Franks added: "He deserves better from his government, and our Campaign implores President Biden to urgently secure Paul’s immediate return using all tools available."
On Thursday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson similarly argued that "Paul Whelan's case would be a priority for any American government."
"Here you have a man who's actively served the United States in the Marine Corps and then possibly as an intel asset in a hostile foreign country. That man is languishing in a Russian prison cell for the rest of his useful life," Carlson added during a segment on "Fox News Tucker Carlson Tonight."
He continued: "So not surprisingly, American authorities in Washington promised to do everything possible to bring this man home. But it turns out they didn't mean a word of it."
During Biden’s announcement earlier in the day, he referenced Whelan and said today’s prisoner swap was "not a choice of which American to bring home."
"Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s," the president said. "And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up."
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed these remarks during an exchange with Fox News report Peter Doocy.
"In this prisoner swap, why did Russia get such a better deal?" Doocy plainly asked.
"The choice was Brittney or no one at all. Bring home one American or no American at all," Jean-Pierre responded.
Doocy continued: "We got a professional athlete but we gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans who was called the ‘merchant of death’ —."
" — the professional athlete is also an American citizen," Jean-Pierre interjected. "So, let’s not forget that."
She added: "The president said this was the best opportunity to bring Brittney home and he is going to continue to do everything he can to bring Paul Whelan home just like he did Trevor Reed."
Trevor Reed is a US citizen and former Marine who was released via a prisoner swap with Russia in April 2022.
During an appearance on MSNBC’s "Alex Wagner Tonight," Jean-Pierre suggested Russia views Whelan as a spy, or different than an ordinary U.S. citizen.
"But sadly, regrettably, Russia was not negotiating in good faith with Paul Whelan because they categorized him very differently. They illegitimately charged him for something that, again, that was illegitimate. And so, therefore, we were not able to secure his release," she said. "But we want to make it very clear the president wants to make it very clear that he will continue to make sure to bring Paul home safely and secure his release."
The White House spokesperson also dismissed any inclination that Biden could have negotiated the deal further to include Whelan.
"I'll say this, this is not a decision that this president that President Biden made lightly. He believed this was an opportunity to bring Brittany home and he wanted to make sure that was we're able to do that," she said.
Jean-Pierre concluded: "Look, this deal was specific and very and very targeted at Brittany because we knew we had a deal and we knew we were able to secure her release."