President Biden on Wednesday told the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February on drug charges, that he is working to secure the basketball player’s release “as soon as possible,” the White House said.
“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” the White House said.
In a letter delivered to Biden on Monday, Brittney Griner, 31, expressed fear about not knowing how long she will be detained and urged the president to work for her release and that of other Americans detained abroad.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote.
According to the White House, during the call Wednesday, Biden “offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home.”
“Today’s call follows recent calls that national security adviser [Jake] Sullivan and Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken have had with Cherelle in recent weeks and this past weekend,” the White House said, adding that Biden had directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Brittney Griner’s family.
Cherelle Griner posted an Instagram statement later Wednesday about her call with Biden and Harris.
“I am grateful to the both of them for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting BG home,” she wrote. “While I will remain concerned and outspoken until she is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond. I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.”
Nearly 1,200 prominent Black women signed a letter to Biden and Harris urging the administration to secure Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison, an escalation of a pressure campaign by the WNBA star’s supporters that comes as her trial proceeds in a court outside Moscow.
The letter, which was delivered to the White House on Tuesday afternoon, was signed by a collection of Black female leaders from the realms of sports, entertainment, labor, business, politics and faith. It claimed that Griner is “enduring inhumane conditions” during her imprisonment and said, “It is imperative, President Biden, that you address this ongoing human rights crisis and make a deal to bring Brittney home quickly and safely.”
Griner, 31, was arrested in February at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow when customs officials allegedly discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. At the time, she was returning to the country to join UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russian team for which she plays during the WNBA offseason. In early May, the State Department declared Griner’s case a “wrongful detainment,” an official classification that elevated it to the office of the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
Her trial began Friday and is expected to continue Thursday; Griner has yet to enter a plea. She is expected to be found guilty — an estimated 99 percent of Russian criminal trials end in guilty verdicts — and could face up to 10 years in prison.
Jake Lourim contributed to this report.