U.S. offers deal to Russia for release of WNBA star Brittney Griner: What we know and don't know
For months, both Brittney Griner and the U.S. State Department have been carefully measured in everything they said about her detainment in Russia on drug charges. And then came Wednesday.
First, Griner testified in court, telling the judge that when she was arrested Feb. 17 she was denied proper translation, wasn't read her rights, was denied access to a lawyer and was coerced by her interpreter into signing papers she couldn't understand.
Her testimony marked a notable shift from her "keep your head down and don't make waves" strategy. She'll find out if it had any effect next week: Sources expect a verdict and sentence Aug. 5.
A few hours after Griner's court appearance, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States had made a "substantial proposition" weeks ago to secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another American whom the government considers to be a wrongful detainee.
Blinken wasn't specific, but as he started his briefing, CNN reported that the United States had offered to trade Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms dealer who is doing a 25-year sentence in the United States, and Blinken passed up a chance to deny the story.
Blinken also said he soon would speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and will demand the release of Griner and Whelan.
Griner's and Blinken's comments were a big deal. What they said answered a few questions but raised a lot more. Here's what we know and what we don't know. (Spoiler: There's a lot of "don't know.")
What we know now is that one lingering question -- is the Biden administration willing to trade for prisoners? -- has been answered. Some in the administration had argued that trading someone like Bout would create a dangerous precedent.
Others had argued that the incentive to kidnap Americans is already significant and the only sensible solution is to cut a deal to bring Griner and Whelan home. Blinken's announcement made it clear that the debate ended a while ago.