US offers ‘Merchant of Death’ for Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

According to a CNN exclusive, the Biden Administration made an offer in its efforts to bring back Brittney Griner and former US Marine in Paul Whelan.

The US offered convicted Russian arms trafficker, Viktor Bout, known as the ‘Merchant of Death,’ who is serving a 25-year sentence, for the pair of Americans.

“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official told CNN on Wednesday.

The administration official also mentioned the offer had been in discussion earlier this year until it received the backing of President Joe Biden.

While their was opposition from the Department of Justice, which is generally against prisoner swaps, Biden’s decision overrides the Department’s opposition.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago” for Whelan and Griner, who are classified as wrongfully detained.

Blinken added that he plans to discuss the matter on a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week.

“It takes two to tango,” the senior administration official told CNN. “We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side. We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip. So in some ways, it’s not surprising, even if it’s disheartening, when those same actors don’t necessarily respond directly to our offers, don’t engage constructively in negotiations.”

Griner spoke in court and said that she was denied basic rights when arrested, per ESPN’s TJ Quinn.

Paul Whelan is a former US Marine who has been held in Russia since 2018 for alleged espionage.

Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport for what prosecutors allege was two cartridges containing 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hashish, or cannabis, oil.

Her drug smuggling trial continues in Russia as she faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty and clarifying that she had the brought the cannabis on accident.

The trial will have to conclude before any prisoner swap is finalized.