President Biden said he’s “hopeful” for a positive result in the case of women’s basketball player Brittney Griner, who was convicted of illegally smuggling drugs into Russia and received a nine-year prison sentence.
“I’m hopeful. We’re working hard,” Mr. Biden told reporters Friday at a ceremony to sign two bills aimed at cracking down on those who commit fraud under the COVID-19 relief programs.
Mr. Biden on Thursday criticized Russia for sentencing Ms. Griner to nine years in a penal colony for having vape cartridges and a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage, calling the decision “unacceptable.”
Mr. Biden’s promise comes roughly one week after reports surfaced that the administration offered to trade notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the ‘Merchant of Death,’ for Ms. Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine also detained in Russia.
On Friday, one day after Ms. Griner was convicted, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was ready to discuss the offer.
Ms. Griner and her wife have sent personal appeals to Mr. Biden for action. And more than 1,000 Black female leaders have been pressing Mr. Biden to make a deal for her safe return. The president talked over the phone to Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, last month.
The basketball star was arrested roughly six months ago and accused of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to the charges last month, saying she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry.
Lawyers for Ms. Griner have vowed to appeal her sentence.