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Trump says he rejected Russian prisoner swap Bout for Marine vet Paul Whelan

Then-President Donald Trump speaks at an Armed Forces Welcome Ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Arlington, Va., Sept. 30, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James Harvey)
December 13, 2022

Former President Donald Trump weighed in on President Joe Biden’s recent move to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner. Trump called the Bout-Griner swap “crazy and bad” and said he turned down a similar deal to swap Bout for U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russian captivity for four years.

In a post on his TRUTH social media platform on Sunday, Trump said:

I turned down a deal with Russia for a one on one swap of the so-called Merchant of Death for Paul Whelan. I wouldn’t have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone that has killed untold numbers of people with his arms deals. I would have gotten Paul out, however, just as I did with a record number of other hostages. The deal for Griner is crazy and bad. The taking wouldn’t have even happened during my Administration, but if it did, I would have gotten her out , fast!

Whelan was detained in Russia on December 28, 2018, on spying allegations after he received a flash drive that he insists he believed contained vacation photos but which the Russian government said actually contained classified information from Russia. Trump was about half way through his first presidential term at the time of Whelan’s detention.

Griner was detained by Russian authorities in February on drug possession charges after Russian authorities said they found hashish cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner was convicted for drug possession in Russia in July, and began what would have been a nine-year prison sentence in November.

Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. that year. U.S. prosecutors accused Bout of meeting in Thailand to broker the sale of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) a rebel group that was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States until 2021. Bout was convicted on charges of arms trafficking and conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials.

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 Whelan’s release from Russian custody, potentially allowing for Griner and Whelan to return home in exchange for Bout.

Paul’s brother, David Whelan, expressed some gratitude at the news of Griner’s release, but shared his family’s disappointment that Paul was not also released.

Biden has faced some other criticism for the Bout-Griner swap, including allegations that releasing Bout for only Griner was an uneven deal in light of their respective criminal offenses. NFL quarterback-turned sports radio host Norman “Boomer” Esiason called the Bout-Griner prisoner swap “pathetic.”