Former NFL quarterback Norman “Boomer” Esiason lambasted the Biden administration’s decision to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for imprisoned basketball player Brittney Griner “pathetic.”
Griner was released from Russian custody on Thursday after she began serving what would have been a nine-year prison sentence at a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia Region. The American basketball player received the sentence after she was arrested in Moscow in February after Russian authorities discovered hashish cannabis oil in her luggage. The hashish oil is an illegal drug in Russia.
Bout was convicted in 2011 of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals, conspiring to kill U.S. officers and employees, conspiring to acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Western media nicknamed Bout the “Merchant of Death.”
After months of back and forth deliberations, the U.S. and Russia agreed to a prisoner swap in which Russia would release Griner in return for Bout. During the deliberations, the Biden administration also raised the prospect of winning the release of U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan from Russian custody. Whelan was arrested in Russia on spying allegations in 2018 and remains in Russian captivity.
Reacting to the news of the prisoner swap on his radio show “Boomer& Gio” on Thursday, Esiason said, “I know that we’re all happy that Brittney’s home” but questioned why Whelan couldn’t also be included in the swap for such a high-profile Russian like Bout.
“It’s not an even swap. It’s not,” Esiason said. “We all know what happened to Brittney should have never happened. We look so pathetic. And listening to our president talk about this is such a pathetic feeling. I want to be happy, but I can’t be. You got a guy who had a 25-year sentence, accused by the U.N. of getting involved in civil wars in Africa and killing millions of people, and you traded him for a WNBA superstar? Okay.”
“Boomer & Gio” show co-host Gregg Gianotti also said, “You just gave up the Merchant of Death, for Chrissakes. You couldn’t get back two people?”
At a White House press conference on Thursday, President Joe Biden insisted his administration is still working for Whelan’s release.
“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Biden said.
“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden added. “We brought home [U.S. Marine veteran] Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up.”