Wednesday, February 28

Biden Speaks to Brittney Griner’s Wife, Cherelle, About Russia

On Wednesday, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, the wife of the WNBA star Brittney Griner, according to a statement released by the White House. Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia on drug charges since February.

During the call, Biden read a draft of a letter he planned to send to Brittney Griner.

“The president offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he has committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home,” the statement read.

Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, accused by the Russian authorities of having a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. Her trial began on Friday. On Monday, Brittney Griner sent a letter to Biden pleading for his help from her.

“I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner said in an excerpt from the letter shared by her representatives. She continued: “I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American details. Please do all you can to bring us home.”

The US government has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained” and is working to secure her release regardless of the outcome of the trial.

On Tuesday, Cherelle Griner appeared on “CBS Mornings” and spoke about her disappointment that Brittney Griner’s family had not received a reply from the president to Brittney Griner’s letter.

“I will not be quiet anymore,” Cherelle Griner said. “My wife is struggling, and we have to help her.”

The women have been able to communicate with each other only through letters. In June, Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press that a scheduled call with Brittney Griner never got through to her because of a staffing issue at the US Embassy in Moscow. She said she had not spoken to her wife since the day Brittney Griner was detained.

Experts said Brittney Griner’s trial was likely to end in a conviction. She faces up to 10 years in a penal colony if she is convicted.

“There’s a bias mainly because the Russian judicial system says they really should not go to trial unless the defendant is going to be convicted,” said William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Kennan Institute and an expert on Russian law. “There’s no real idea or expectation that the defendant could be innocent. There’s no presumption of innocence, really.”

One pathway to secure the release of an American detained abroad is a prisoner swap. Trevor Reed, a former US Marine who had been imprisoned in Russia on assault charges since August 2019, was released in a prisoner swap in April. Reed had been sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020.

Griner has played for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury since the franchise drafted her first overall in 2013. She won a WNBA championship in 2014 and has won two gold medals with the US women’s national basketball team.

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She was in Russia because she played for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a team known for being among the highest paying women’s basketball teams in the world.

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