President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on the phone Wednesday with the wife of Brittney Griner, the basketball star whose detention in Russia on cannabis charges has played out amid the broader foreign policy battle between Washington and Moscow over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.
On the call, Biden pledged to Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, that he would provide “all possible assistance” to the detained athlete and said his administration is pursuing “every avenue” to bring Brittney Griner home, a White House statement released Wednesday shows.
“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” the statement read.
Biden’s conversation with Cherelle Griner follows a concerted push from the Griner family to escalate the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s detention. In a hand-written letter delivered on July 4, Griner pleaded with the president to not “forget about me and the other American Detainees.” Cherelle Griner, in an interview this week with CBS News, complained that the Biden administration was “not doing anything” to secure her wife’s release.
“Initially, I was told … ‘We’re going to try and handle this behind [the] scenes.’ And, ‘Let’s not raise her value.’ And, ‘Stay quiet.’ And I did that,” Griner said. “And respectfully, we’re over 140 days at this point. That does not work.”
The White House, in response to Cherelle Griner’s complaints, noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had both spoken recently with the detained athlete’s wife and that Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, had met with Brittney Griner’s family and teammates.