“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.”
Whelan, a former Marine, was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 after getting arrested around Christmastime in 2018.
Griner and Whelan, while their cases are not directly intertwined, have been viewed as a package the United States was looking to get back, but the administration said that securing his release had not been on the table because the Russians view him differently, given he was charged and convicted of espionage, though he denies the charges.
“They’ve put me at a level higher than what they did with Trevor [Reed] and Brittney,” he explained. “That raises a lot of concerns because none of it is true. And they’re trying to get out of United States, what the United States may not be able to provide, but this is basically political extortion.”
President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the prisoner swap for Griner 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.”
Whelan sent a message to the president saying, “I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” he said. “My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.”
Biden and other officials who have discussed Griner’s release have reiterated their intent to continue working to secure his freedom.