The sister of Paul Whelan, an American who has been held in Russia since 2018, questioned why his family hasn’t received a call fro
The sister of Paul Whelan, an American who has been held in Russia since 2018, questioned why his family hasn’t received a call from the White House after President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris reached out to the wife of Brittney Griner to “reassure” her of their efforts to free the WNBA star.
“To begin with, we don’t begrudge the Griner family and their supporters any of the attention that they’re getting from the president,” Elizabeth Whelan told CNN Wednesday. “I mean, it’s really wonderful. They have resources far beyond what our family does.
“I think our concern is, you know, why the outreach to some families and not others?” Whelan added. “There are 55-plus families who would like to have that same degree of attention. My brother’s written to both presidents [Trump and Biden] and people throughout Congress, hundreds and hundreds of letters during the three-and-a-half years that he’s been held.”
Elizabeth Whelan spoke out shortly after the White House revealed that Biden and Harris had called Cherelle Griner one day after she said it was “very disheartening” that she hadn’t heard from the president about efforts to get her wife released from a Russian jail.
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,” the White House said in a readout of the conversation.
Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, is serving a 16-year prison sentence after being arrested in Moscow on espionage charges in 2018.
“I was astonished this morning to hear about this call,” Elizabeth Whelan said, “and it did make me wonder: Should we be pushing for a meeting with the president? Is that what it’s going to take to bring my brother home? What I would really like to see is a functioning process that didn’t require that.”
“Our last high-level meeting was May the 4th,” she claimed. “So it’s been a couple of months now.”
Whelan went on to say that she had sent the administration four letters, emailed White House chief of staff Ron Klain and asked national security adviser Jake Sullivan to set up a meeting, but it “hasn’t happened yet.”
“At the same time, I think my message to the White House is whoever thought this was a good idea has to remember other families with far less resources have been waiting for years and years to see action to bring their loved ones home,” she continued. “People who have even less access than the Whelan family does. What we need to see is something a little more even-handed when it comes to outreach to the families.”
She went on to call for more urgent action by the administration on all cases of Americans being unjustly held abroad.
“I do believe the US government is doing everything it can to bring Paul and Brittney home. But when it comes to the public outreach, perhaps the Whelan family does need that meeting with the president,” Whalen said.
In a separate interview Thursday, Paul Whelan’s brother Dave echoed his sister, saying, “we’re on our second presidential administration, so three-and-a-half years in, and we really still haven’t seen any forward movement to get Paul released.
“We haven’t seen the US government create a framework or an environment in which they will preempt these sort of wrongful detentions going forward,” Dave Whelan added. “So, we sort of feel like we’re not going anywhere.”
Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star, has been detained since she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for allegedly carrying two cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage.
She pleaded guilty during a court hearing Thursday and faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Cherelle Griner in a posting on Instagram said she was “grateful” to Biden and Harris for the “time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting BG home.”
“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,” she said. “I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.”