U.S. officials at the embassy in Moscow visited imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner Thursday after Russian authorities rejected her appeal of a nine-year prison sentence last month.
State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration is continuing to push for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, both American citizens the administration says are wrongfully detained by Russia. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Griner is doing “as well as can be expected given the circumstances,” with Price saying officials “saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance.”
.@USEmbRU officials visited Brittney Griner today. They saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances. We continue to press for the immediate release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and fair treatment for every detained American.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) November 3, 2022
Griner was arrested in February and convicted in August for carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil through the Moscow airport while she was traveling to the country to play for a Russian basketball team during the WNBA offseason. The arrest came just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as tensions between the U.S. and Moscow were rapidly intensifying.
Griner admitted to packing the canisters in her luggage but said it was done in a rush and not with criminal intent. Her attorneys argued her nine-year sentence was excessive. (RELATED: Russia Dampens Biden Admin’s Hopes Of Prisoner Swap For Detained WNBA Star)
Jean-Pierre said bringing home Griner and Whelan is a “top priority” for the administration. The U.S. government reportedly offered to free Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” in exchange for freeing the two wrongful detainees during the summer.
The State Department has repeatedly said that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is doing its best to offer consular services to Griner, although direct contact has been limited.