Former President Donald Trump said he had previously turned down a prisoner swap deal with Russia, saying he couldn’t have former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan home but allow out convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has “killed untold numbers.”
“I turned down a deal with Russia for a one on one swap of the so-called Merchant of Death for Paul Whelan. I wouldn’t have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone that has killed untold numbers of people with his arms deals,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform on Dec. 11.
Bout, 55, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 for conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to a Colombian terrorist group committed to killing Americans, was freed on Dec. 8 in exchange for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, 32.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court in August, after pleading guilty to carrying cannabis products when she landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February.
Despite rejecting the swap, Trump said he would still secure Whelan’s release. Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018, before he was handed a 16-year prison sentence on spying charges by a Russian court in June 2015.
“I would have gotten Paul out, however, just as I did with a record number of other hostages,” Trump added.
President Joe Biden has described talks with Moscow over securing Griner’s release as “painstaking and intense negotiations.”
Trump on Sunday also criticized the Biden administration over its prisoner exchange agreement with Moscow.
“The deal for Griner is crazy and bad. The taking wouldn’t have even happened during my Administration, but if it did, I would have gotten her out, fast!” Trump wrote.
Trump’s Truth Social post on Sunday is not the first time the former president has weighed in on the prisoner swap.
“The Trump Administration got 58 hostages released from various hostile countries without paying any money, or giving up anything,” Trump wrote on Truth Social last week. “That is something, both in numbers and lack of remuneration, that has never been done before in any other administration.”
“The America hating basketball player for the ‘Merchant of Death,’ especially when the former Marine is not even included, is a one-sided disaster, and a BIG WIN FOR RUSSIA,” he continued. “If I made that deal the Dems would chant, RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA!”
Whelan, speaking to CNN in a phone interview from a Russian penal colony on Dec. 8, said he was “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,” Whelan added. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
White House spokesman John Kirby said Russia was unwilling to include Whelan in a prisoner swap for Bout.
“They treat Paul differently because of these sham espionage charges,” Kirby told Fox News on Dec. 11. “He is put in this special category by the Russians.”
After Griner arrived back in the United States on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that more prisoner exchanges with the United States were possible.
“Yes, anything is possible,” Putin said when he was asked if other prison exchanges were possible. “Contacts continue. In fact, they have never stopped … A compromise was found, we do not reject continuing this work in the future.”
The Griner-for-Bout swap has drawn praise and criticism in Congress, with both reactions splitting mostly along party lines.
“President Biden, Secretary [Antony] Blinken and the many hard-working national security professionals are to be commended for their tireless, steadfast work to bring Brittney home,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a statement.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) released a statement saying, “I commend President Biden and American negotiators for taking action to ensure that she can safely return to our shores.”
Some Republican lawmakers warned about what the future holds for Americans.
“Americans welcome the release of Brittney Griner, but it shouldn’t have come at the cost of releasing one of the world’s worst arms dealers and creating a dangerous precedent for our enemies: detain Americans and Democrats will agree to set your worst killers free,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a statement.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the prisoner swap was “clearly a blackmail demand,” according to a statement.
“Bout is one of the most dangerous men in the world and an arms dealer who conspired to kill Americans and aid terrorists, and his release makes every American less safe—so does the manner of his release, which will encourage terrorists and rogue regimes to seize more Americans as hostages,” Cruz wrote.
Democrat and Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania are calling on the Biden administration to do more to secure the release of Marc Fogel, an American teacher who is serving a 14-year sentence in Russia for possession of medical marijuana.
“Mr. Fogel suffers from severe medical conditions and his family fears he will not survive his 14-year sentence in a hard labor camp. The Biden administration, and the Nation, cannot forget about Marc,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said in a statement. “Like Ms. Griner and others, Marc deserves to see his family again.”
“PA resident Marc Fogel is jailed in Russia for reasons almost identical to Brittney Griner,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) wrote on Twitter. “The Biden Admin brought home a celebrity—it must work just as hard to bring home everyday Americans too.”