Biden's Hostage Envoy Tells Inside Story Of Brittney Griner's Return To US: She Thanked Crew & Talked For Hours


Roger Carstens, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday’s “State of the Union” what went on during the prisoner swap that resulted in the release of Brittney Griner from prison in Russia, where she’d been held for the past 10 months for possession of less than a gram of cannabis oil. Griner was exchanged for the convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout.

Griner Immediately Thanked The Crew Transporting Her Home

“When she finally got on to the US plane, I said, ‘Brittany, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We’ll give you your space,’” Carstens told Bash.

“And she said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk. But first of all, who are these guys?’ And she moved right past me and went to every member of that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing,” Carstens said. “And then later on, on an 18-hour flight, she probably spent 12 hours just talking and we talked about everything under the sun.”

Carstens described Griner as “an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person, but above all, authentic,” adding that she seemed healthy and full of energy during the trip. 

Once the transfer was completed in the UAE and they were set to board the plane for the U.S., Carstens told Griner “on behalf of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, I’m here to take you home.”

“At that point, we have to go through a little more of the choreography to get her on the plane, it usually takes about three minutes,” said Carstens. 

Carstens said that he and Griner talked about her ordeal during the trip, though he declined to elaborate on details.

More Work To Do

“But know this, even as we are welcoming someone home, we still have work to do. So, as I am shaking Brittney’s hands and we are going to the aircraft and having this great conversation, my brain is already thinking about Paul Whelan. What can we do to get him back? What’s the next move? What is the strategy? How can we adapt?”

Carsen told Bash that he spoke with former US Marine Paul Whelan the day after the swap, and reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to bringing him home.

“I said, ‘Paul, you have the commitment of this President. The President’s focused, the secretary of state’s focused. I’m certainly focused, and we’re gonna bring you home. And I reminded him, I said, ‘Paul, when you were in the Marines, and I was in the Army, they always reminded you to keep the faith’ and I said, ‘Keep the faith. We’re coming to get you,’” he said. 

Carstens did not give details about the negotiation efforts to bring Whelan home, but said that “the options are always being evaluated.”

“We have to adapt to the times,” he said. “But here’s the thing I would like to leave you with, you know, we have an ongoing, open dialogue with the Russians. And we have the commitment of this President and my office, certainly, to bring Paul Whelan home.”

Photo: Wikipedia


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