President Joe Biden is reportedly working behind the scenes to get Paul Whelan, WNBA star Brittney Griner, and other Americans detained in Russia back home to the United States.
According to a White House official, via Axios, the president recently spoke with Elizabeth Whelan — the sister of Paul Whelan, a 50-year-old corporate security executive and Marine Corps veteran who’s been sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia for alleged espionage — and said his administration would work to secure the Americans’ release from Russia.
Biden also pledged to keep the Whelan family updated on this process.
The president’s phone call with Elizabeth Whelan occurred after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, who has been held for more than four months in Russia.
On Thursday, Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug and smuggling charges in Russia.
Biden also reportedly wrote a letter to Brittney Griner this week.
It was delivered to her when she appeared in a Russian court.
Elizabeth Whelan has been critical of the White House in recent days, arguing that the Biden administration had not been giving Paul Whelan’s case the same amount of attention as Griner’s.
A Friday statement from the White House reads that Biden has “reaffirmed that he is committed to bringing Paul [Whelan] home as soon as possible, and the U.S. government will continue its efforts to secure the release of Paul, as well as Brittney Griner and all other Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world.”
In addition to being a U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan reportedly holds British, Canadian and Irish passports.
Whelan’s lawyer has previously said his client had been framed in a sting operation and was unknowingly handed a flash drive that contained classified information, according to Axios.
After Whelan’s sentencing in Russia, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said prosecutors produced no evidence of Whelan’s guilt and then denounced the trial as a violation of human rights and international legal norms.
Whelan has been detained in Russia for more than three years.