Brittney Griner's agent begs Biden to cut deal with Russia

WNBA star Brittney Griner’s agent begs Biden to cut a deal with Russia to bring her home after her trial date on drugs charges is set for Friday

  • Brittney Griner, 31, appeared in a Russian courtroom on Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of her trial for allegedly carrying cannabis oil
  • Her trial begins Friday. If convicted, she could face 10 years in prison on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs
  • Fewer than one percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted
  • Her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, took to Twitter on Monday to called for the Biden Administration to ‘do everything in their power’ to get a ‘deal done’ 
  • Colas also said her release should remain a ‘top priority’ as she has been determined by the US as a ‘political pawn’  

WNBA star Brittney Griner’s agent begged President Biden to cut a deal with Russia to bring her home as her trial for drug charges is set to start on Friday.

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas took to Twitter on Monday to put pressure on the Biden Administration to get the 31-year-old out, writing: ‘The negotiation for her immediate release regardless of the legal proceedings should remain a top priority and we expect @POTUS and @VP to do everything in their power, right now, to get a deal done to bring her home.

‘The fact remains that the US Government has determined that Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained and being used as a political pawn.’

Colas also updated fans on the basketball star’s current status in Russia and said Griner’s court hearing was ‘administrative in nature.’ 

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion, was detained at Moscow airport in February on charges of carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage, which could carry a 10-year prison sentence

The six-foot-nine athlete’s trial is expected to start on Friday and she has been ordered to remain in jail for the duration of her criminal trial. Her detainment has been extended for another six months in jail. 

Griner was arrested for allegedly carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil through Moscow airport security in February. 

If convicted, she will face up to 10 years in prison. Fewer than one percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the US, acquittals can be overturned.

Griner’s agent called for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to ‘do everything in their power, right now, to get a deal done to bring her home.’ The basketball star’s detention was extended another six weeks and she has been ordered to stay imprisoned during her criminal trial, which starts on July 1

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas, pictured, says her client is being used as a ‘political pawn’

At a hearing on Monday, the dread-locked athlete towered over prison guards as she was escorted into the courtroom in Khimki on the outskirts of Moscow.  

Photos obtained by the Associated Press show the 31-year-old in handcuffs and looking straight ahead, unlike a previous court appearance where she kept her head down and covered with a hood.

Griner’s detention and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which aggravated already-high tensions with sweeping sanctions by the United States and Russia’s denunciation of US weapon supplies to Ukraine.

Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had taken a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs – effectively the US government’s chief negotiator.

That move has drawn additional attention to Griner’s case, with supporters encouraging a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

US basketball star Brittney Griner arrives to hearing in Khimki court outside Moscow on Monday June 27

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing on Monday

Griner has been imprisoned since February, when she was arrested on drug charges as she tried to re-enter Russia 

The six-foot-nine Griner is pictured being escorted out of a Russian courtroom in the Moscow suburb of Khimki on Monday  

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed ‘The Merchant of Death,’ who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years, but the discrepancy between Griner’s cannabis case and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the US.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16 year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a set-up.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question.

‘As a general proposition…I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,’ he said. But added that he ‘can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.’

Any swap would require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced, then apply for a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told Kremlin-funded TV channel RT. 

Griner is considered ‘wrongfully imprisoned’ by the US government, which has accused Russia of using her as a hostage 

A phone call between Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner (left), was rescheduled after an earlier attempt to connect on the couple’s anniversary failed because of an ‘unfortunate mistake,’ Biden administration officials said last week

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refuted the suggestion Griner’s detention amounts to political imprisonment.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News that aired June 20, Peskov claimed Griner is only being held captive for breaking the law and equated her predicament with, ‘hundreds and hundreds of Russian citizens that were sentenced for carrying hashish.’ 

‘Why should we make an exemption for a foreign citizen?’ Peskov argued.

Griner, 31, was detained at a Moscow airport on February 17 after authorities there said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.

NBC News’ Keir Simmons observed that the US government is essentially treating Griner’s detention like a hostage situation, but Peskov dodged.

‘She violated Russian law, and now she’s being prosecuted,’ Peskov told NBC. ‘It’s not about being a hostage. There are lots of American citizens here. They’re enjoying their freedoms … but you have to obey the laws.’

The top Kremlin spokesman added that he strongly disagreed with the State Department’s reclassification in May of Griner’s arrest as ‘wrongfully detained.’  

A fan holds up a sign urging other fans to call and pressure the White House to free seven-time WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner from Russian custody during the second half of a WNBA basketball game between the New York Liberty and the Seattle Storm

During the interview, Peskov also said that Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting against the Kremlin invasion, had ‘endangered’ Russian soldiers and should be ‘held accountable for those crimes.’

When pressed on what crimes the Americans had committed, Peskov admitted their specific offenses were not yet known but claimed that they would not be covered by the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war because they were not part of the Ukrainian Army. 

When asked to comment on the potential ‘terrible message’ sent by Griner’s imprisonment after she traveled to join the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason, Peskov disregarded the criticism. 

‘It is also a terrible message to bring some forbidden essences and materials to this country,’ he said. 

A phone call between Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, was rescheduled after an earlier attempt to connect on the couple’s anniversary failed because of an ‘unfortunate mistake,’ Biden administration officials said last week.

Griner was set to speak with her wife on June 18, the couple’s fourth anniversary, for the first time since her arrest in Russia in mid-February. 

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the call could not be completed because of a ‘logistical error’ that officials have worked quickly to fix so that a new call can take place.

Griner was seen putting her belongings through a scanner at the travel hub 

Moments later, airport staff were seen putting one of her belongings into an envelope, then sealing it up 

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refuted the US State Department’s classification of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s arrest as political imprisonment.

Cherelle Griner said on Monday she learned that her wife had tried 11 times to call her through the embassy by dialing a number that she had been given, but that no one picked up because that particular desk was unstaffed on Saturday.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the State Department was working to arrange a new call but did not say when that would be.

Cherelle has been active on her Instagram stories, sharing pictures of athletes wearing Free Brittney t-shirts and posts about her wife since Griner’s arrest.  

Griner won Olympic gold medals with the US national teams in 2016 and 2021 and is a seven-time All-Star who also plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA but was drawn to the Russian league for the higher salaries.

Griner is a former WNBA champion and eight-time All-Star

The US State Department said the 31-year-old has been ‘wrongfully detained’ since Russian officials accused her of drug smuggling.

The WNBA has acknowledged Griner’s absence this season in a number of ways, including social media posts from many players and the league placing a decal with her initials and number on the home floor of all 12 of that league’s teams. 

In early May, Griner’s case was handed off to the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), which negotiates the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.

The allegations against Griner have not been proven in court, and several public officials have accused the Russian government of bringing false charges against Griner and other imprisoned Americans.

The Olympian pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Moscow court.

After repeated requests, a State Department official in Moscow was granted consular access to Griner last month and the basketball player, who was the first draft pick for the WNBA, was in ‘good condition.’

‘We were able to check on her condition, we will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly,’ a representative said at the time.

‘Our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.’

Her only issue was that the prison beds in the jail were reportedly too short for her 6-foot-9 frame.

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