After spending 10 months in a Russian prison, Griner was released in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Menendez, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed Griner home in a statement before slamming the conditions of the Biden administration’s deal.
“This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize we have a serious problem with hostage-taking of Americans. The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griners of the world and people like Viktor Bout, the so-called ‘Merchant of Death.’ Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision,” Menendez said.
The Democrat’s criticism joins several Republicans who were quick to slam the Biden administration over the prisoner swap.
“The Bout-for-Griner prisoner swap is not a trade, it’s an American surrender,” national security adviser John Bolton tweeted. “This is not what American strength looks like. Terrorists and rogue states are smiling.”
Republicans were also quick to criticize that Paul Whelan, a Marine who is also considered to be wrongfully detained, was not included in the exchange.
“Paul Whelan should have been part of this deal,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID). “He is a Marine who fought for our country, and he is a hero. He has spent four years unjustly held and badly mistreated in Russian prisons. The Biden administration cannot forget him now that Griner has been released.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) blasted Biden’s weakness in leaving Whelan behind.
“It’s been over 4 years since his imprisonment. How much longer must his family wait?” tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). “There is no place for weakness when it comes to lives of innocent Americans.”
Griner landed in Texas early Friday morning.
She had pleaded guilty to a drug charge following her arrest on Feb. 17 after transporting cannabis oil in her bag, which is illegal in Russia.
Prior to her release, Griner had been held at the Women’s Penal Colony No. 2 in Mordovia, Russia.