The Details Behind Brittney Griner’s Long Road Home

by | Dec 10, 2022 | Human Rights & Justice

Cherelle Griner, President Biden and Vice President Harris speak on the phone with Brittney Griner after the administration negotiated her release from a Russian prison on December 8, 2022 in the Oval Office. (Adam Schultz/The White House)

The Details Behind Brittney Griner’s Long Road Home

by | Dec 10, 2022 | Human Rights & Justice

Cherelle Griner, President Biden and Vice President Harris speak on the phone with Brittney Griner after the administration negotiated her release from a Russian prison on December 8, 2022 in the Oval Office. (Adam Schultz/The White House)
Outside of the public eye, pleas, letters and negotiations were in action for months to gain the release of Brittney Griner from her imprisonment in Russia.

For 293 days, Cherelle Griner prayed, pleaded and pressed for the safe return of her wife. Since February 17, Brittney Griner had been held in Russian custody, separated from the family, team and country she loves and represents.

On Thursday morning, Cherelle sat next to the president of the United States in the Oval Office and together, they learned the news: Brittney Griner was free, safe and finally headed home.

December 8 ended a harrowing, emotion-filled time—a test of hope. It also marked the beginning of a new and uncertain journey for the Griners.

“It’s through hardship that character is revealed, and over the last nine months, we have seen the best of so many,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, said in a statement. “Throughout this ordeal, BG has carried herself with courage, grace, and grit, and President Biden … kept his word and did what was necessary to bring her home. We are forever grateful for his follow-through on that commitment.”

Reporting and interviews with a senior White House official authorized to speak on background reveal the details that led to the day the Biden administration had been focused on for months, a promise fulfilled to a family and a nation.

In June, U.S. officials went to Russia through established channels to communicate with them about Griner, who had been declared a wrongful detainee by the State Department the month before, and former Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained in 2018 on charges of espionage and has been serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia. The official said the United States made a “substantial offer” involving arms dealer Viktor Bout, who ended up being part of the final exchange.

At first the administration said they “weren’t getting traction” on their offer. On July 4, Griner penned a letter to the president—a personal plea for help.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote.

The next day, a letter signed by 1,200 prominent Black women pressuring the administration to take action was delivered to the White House. Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who had been working as senior adviser to the president for 10 days, recalled an off-the-record Zoom meeting where top-level officials met with the group for an hour to answer questions and address concerns. The meeting demonstrated the administration’s commitment to securing Griner’s release, Bottoms said.

“When he said that it mattered to him to bring Brittney home, to her wife, privately, and publicly, he meant it,” she said.

The Biden administration ramped up the pressure in July by making the offer to release Bout public, hoping to get the ball rolling and to move things forward, the official told The 19th.

Griner’s third wedding anniversary in June and 32nd birthday in October came and went. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the administration continued negotiations. They talked about the case publicly. The fairly new White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre—herself a queer, Black woman—mentioned Griner’s case and the president’s commitment to securing her release frequently from the podium.

Karine Jean-Pierre prepares for a press briefing in the Lower Press offices of the White House. (Hannah Foslien/The White House)

Meanwhile, the administration continued to work behind the scenes on Griner and Whelan’s release. Other offers were floated, the official said. Other categories of detainees were proposed. But according to the administration, “those conversations were not really met with any sort of reaction or engagement in a good faith way, by Russia.”

Negotiations continued to stall through most of November until Russia made it clear they would be interested in a very specific deal: to trade Griner for Bout.

It was the only option. According to an administration official: “There wasn’t any sort of other combination on either side.”

The administration is actively continuing to work to secure Whelan’s release, which is why officials can still only say so much about the details of how Griner’s freedom was brokered. It’s not clear if or to what extent Griner’s celebrity or gender is a factor in why she was the one Russians agreed to, and the administration declined to comment on this.

According to the official, “in the last couple of weeks” it became clear that they had a choice to “either bring one American home or not.” Roughly a week ago, Biden approved the one-for-one deal and officials began lining things up to execute the plan.

Within the last 72 hours, Griner was moved from the penal colony, where she had been sentenced to serve nine years, to Moscow, the official said. On Wednesday, a special envoy for hostage affairs who was in frequent contact with the Whelan family traveled to his sister’s home to meet with her and share the news that while the United States would be able to bring Griner home, the Russians were unwilling to negotiate for Whelan.

At around the same time, Griner boarded a flight to the United Arab Emirates as Bout left Indiana, also bound for the UAE.

Early Thursday morning, Cherelle Griner arrived at the White House for what she believed would be a meeting with an assistant to the president and National Security Council adviser Jake Sullivan.

Instead, she was taken to the Oval Office, where Biden informed her of the operation underway. Not long after, Griner’s plane touched down and the president and Cherelle received the news together that Griner was in U.S. custody.

According to the official, Griner was able to speak to the president and her wife, who were in the room with the vice president, secretary of state, national security adviser and others. Cherelle was also able to step out of the Oval Office for a private moment with Griner. Within the hour, Biden and Cherelle were at the podium announcing the good news.

“It’s been a pretty remarkable 48 hours here,” the official said on Thursday.

On Friday, Griner landed in San Antonio, where she was reunited with Cherelle. Griner will be offered voluntary medical and mental health care, as well as specific support services as she navigates the trauma of the last nine months, as well as her reentry.

While some detainees can enjoy anonymity, Griner’s will be recovering in the public eye, which could present additional challenges.

Keisha Lance Bottoms poses for a portrait at Atlanta City Hall in 2021. (Elijah Nouvelage/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

People sent “thousands” of emails to the administration advocating for Griner’s release, the official said. For Bottoms, Griner’s return is a reminder of a phrase used often in the Black community: Trust the process.

“So many people were upset and didn’t think BG mattered, that she had been forgotten,” Bottoms said. “Even when we don’t always know what’s going on and we think more should be happening, it’s often happening behind the scenes and we have to be patient. He would not rest until he got Brittney home.”

Republished with permission from The19th, by Errin Haines

The 19th News

The 19th News

A century ago, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made voting, our country’s most fundamental mode of civic participation, a right regardless of gender. But this watershed moment in our democracy excluded millions of women, particularly women of color, from the ballot box for generations. And the reality is suffrage remains a work in progress for many in this country, particularly people living in states where voter suppression exists and tens of thousands of transgender Americans who face barriers to voting.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us

Related Articles

Feb 03 2023

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court Deems Gun Possession More Important Than Family Safety

There is no real doubt that the 5th Circuit’s decision is going to lead to more abusers murdering their wives and girlfriends.
Attendees hold signs as they listen to speakers during a rally calling for an end to corporate money in politics and to mark the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on January 21, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Jan 20 2023

House Democrats Introduce Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

The Citizens United decision allowed special interest groups and corporations to create super PACs, to accept unlimited donations—including from “dark money...
Jan 14 2023

California AG Sues Big Pharma Drugmakers Over Insulin Price Gouging

California follows other states in going after insulin companies and pharmaceutical middlemen, but California is taking an aggressive approach by charging the companies...
Dec 26 2022

The Christmas Cruelty of Greg Abbott

Three buses coming from Texas dropped off about 140 recent migrants—including babies and young children—near VP Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C., in historically...
Dec 24 2022

How the January 6th Committee Tackled an Unprecedented Attack With a Time-Tested Inquiry

Despite the unprecedented action by the January 6th committee of the criminal referral of the ex-president for a variety of charges, Congressional committees have a...
Dec 20 2022

A Constitutional Law Expert Explains What the Criminal Referral of Trump Means

A professor of constitutional law helps explain why the recommended charges against Trump are important, where they fall short—and what could come next.
Dec 19 2022

Students With Disabilities—The Illinois School That Routinely Has Students Arrested

An Illinois school for students with disabilities has routinely used the police to handle discipline, resulting in the highest arrest rate of any district in the...
Dec 18 2022

The Danger of the Republican’s Bogus ‘Independent State Legislatures’ Theory

Republicans support the ‘Independent State Legislatures’ theory because they’ve given up on democracy. They seek to make it harder for people to vote and box them into...
Dec 15 2022

What America Can Learn About Medical Debt From Germany’s Coal Miners

Germany’s limits on how much patients pay out-of-pocket at the doctor’s office have been critical to ensuring people get needed care, especially in a mining region...
four people inside mart
Dec 06 2022

Drug Prices Will Finally Start to Decrease for Medicare Recipients

While pharmaceutical companies argued against Medicare price negotiation, saying it would harm research and development of new drugs and innovation, polling has found...
Subscribe for Updates!

Subscribe for Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This