CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez claimed that top U.S. law enforcement officials see the prisoner trade of U.S. citizen Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout as an “epically bad deal” considering how dangerous Bout is, and how long it took for Americans to capture him.
Perez also claimed the deal leaves less leverage for the U.S. to get U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan home, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018.
On Thursday, Brittney Griner was freed by the Russian government in exchange for the release of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” from U.S. prison. Originally, the Biden administration was seeking the release of Whelan as well, but that part of the deal fell through.
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Biden critics in the media were quick to call the deal a bad one, though CNN’s Perez did so and mentioned that some U.S. law enforcement officials see it that way as well.
Speaking to a CNN panel, Perez mentioned the “concern” that members of the DOJ, FBI and DEA have over this swap because of how difficult capturing Bout was in 2008, when he was finally nabbed in Thailand during a drug sting.
Perez stated, “The concern at the Justice Department, certainly the FBI, the DEA, these are law enforcement agencies that worked for years to get Viktor Bout. They finally managed — this was the operation where they captured him, got him in Thailand back in 2008, was something that a lot of people put blood, sweat and tears into.”
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He also mentioned individuals at these law enforcement agencies are concerned for Americans’ safety after such a swap. The reporter stated, “So the concern I’ve heard since we reported in the summer when these conversations were happening, was it that does set a precedent for other Americans and puts more Americans in danger.”
Perez noted that when the deal was being negotiated and Whelan was going to be included in the trade, “there was perhaps a little bit more acceptance.” Though he indicated that’s not the case now.
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He said, “But the idea that now it’s just a one-for-one deal, it comes across very badly, certainly among law enforcement officials, as an epically bad deal because, as you guys have been pointing out, there’s less to bargain for to get Paul Whelan home.”
Perez alleged that the “Justice Department never likes these deals,” but added that this one they were especially unhappy with. He said, “But this one seemed epically more problematic for people.”