Bolton said that the Trump administration was presented with the opportunity to trade Whelan, a former Marine, for Bout, an arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.”
“The possibility of a Bout-for-Whelan trade existed back then and it wasn’t made, for very good reasons having to deal with Viktor Bout,” he told CBS News.
Whelan, now 52, was arrested in Russia in December 2018. Russian authorities claim he was working as a spy. In 2020, he was convicted on charges of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
His plight has been highlighted this week in the wake of the Biden administration’s prisoner swap between Bout and WNBA star Brittney Griner. Griner was detained earlier this year and eventually sentenced over drug charges.
Bolton slammed the trade for Griner, calling it a “very bad mistake by the Biden administration.”
“This is not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender, and terrorists and rogue states all around the world will take note of this, and it endangers other Americans in the future who can be grabbed and used as bargaining chips by people who don’t have the same morals and scruples that we do,” the former national security adviser said.
Whelan, for his part, said he was “greatly disappointed” that he wasn’t part of any swap deal.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he told CNN shortly after the news of the prisoner exchange was revealed publicly. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the prisoner swap was “not a choice of which American to bring home,” adding, “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. We will never give up.”