Joe Biden met with the wife of Brittney Griner on Friday at the White House, marking the first time the president has had a face-to-face conversation with the WNBA star’s family since she was detained in Russia on drug charges in February.
Griner was found guilty of smuggling illegal narcotics into Russia last month, with the judge sentencing the basketball player to nine years in prison and issued a fine of 1 million rubles, or about $16,300, for bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage when entering the country. Griner’s Russian lawyers have appealed the conviction.
“One of the things that the President wanted to make clear is, and one of the reasons he’s meeting with the families, is that he wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day, on making sure that Brittney and Paul [Whelan, another American detained in Russia] return home safely,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday (via NPR).
Biden separately met with both Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner as well as Whelan’s sister Elizabeth Whelan.
“It wasn’t a meeting where the President told me the news that I want to hear,” Cherelle Griner told CNN Friday after her talk with Biden. “It wasn’t that, but it was one of those still pivotal meetings where… it allowed me to have confidence in what he’s doing right now.”
Cherelle added that she communicates with Brittney via letters, and that the WNBA star is “not well.” “We’ve had some very disturbing communications about her venting about how she is at that moment, to the point where I was very concerned,” Cherelle said. “She’s losing it. We’ve reached that amount of days where even a strong person is like, ‘Babe I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to take it.’”
The meeting comes as Russia has been unresponsive to the U.S.’s reported offer to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer currently imprisoned in America, in exchange for the two detained Americans.
“The Russians should accept our offer,” Jean-Pierre added. “They should accept our offer today. We will keep working diligently until the day we get to share that good news.”
Cherelle added Friday, “I don’t think they have quite figured out exactly what Russia wants in return for BG.”
White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday ahead of the meeting, “These two individuals ought to be home, period… We want these two individuals home back where they belong with their families.”