Trevor Reed: White House should do more to free Griner, Whelan

A former Marine who was released from Russian custody in April after being held prisoner since 2019 said the U.S. government is not doing enough to free WNBA star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two Americans being held prisoner in Russia. 

Trevor Reed told NBC News in an interview that will air on Tuesday that he is “extremely grateful” that the Biden administration worked to free him in a prisoner exchange, but said he believes the administration can quickly achieve the release of Griner and Whelan. 

He said he recognizes that the actions the White House is taking to free them is not public information, but the government could be moving much faster. 

“But, in my opinion, the White House has the ability to get them out extremely fast, and they clearly have chosen not to do that,” Reed said. “So no, in my opinion, they’re not doing enough.” 

Whelan was arrested in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges that he denies and was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020. Griner, who plays for a Russian professional basketball team during the WNBA’s offseason, was detained in February on drug charges, days before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. 

Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty and could face up to 10 years in prison. 

Reed said the choice by Biden to agree to a prisoner swap to secure his release was the “ethical decision.” But he said that Biden has the responsibility to continue “doing the right thing.” 

The White House has faced backlash for not pushing for Whelan and Griner’s releases in the past few months. 

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said late last month that her release is at the “highest chain of command” but that she does not have any update on the status of negotiations. Cherelle Griner called on the public to put increased pressure on the White House to bring Brittney Griner home. 

Biden called Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister, earlier this month after Elizabeth tweeted that she was “crushed” that the president had not called her family following news that he had phoned Cherelle Griner. 

Biden pledged he was committed to freeing Whelan on the call.