Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, who remains detained in Russia indefinitely on alleged drug charges, sent a letter to the White House on Monday appealing directly to President Joe Biden to fight for her freedom. On Wednesday, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle.
“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement. “The President 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 call with Biden and Harris came after Cherelle, told CBS Mornings on Tuesday that it had been “very disheartening” to not hear from President Biden yet.
“It kills me every time that, you know, when I have to write her and she’s asking, ‘Have you met with them yet?’ And I have to say no… I’m sure she is like ‘I’m going to write him and ask now because my family has tried to no avail, so I’m going to do it myself,'” Cherelle said.
Here’s the full interview:
Griner’s representatives released excerpts of the letter to the media on Monday (the Fourth of July), which read as follows:
“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.”
“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
White House officials confirmed Tuesday that Biden has read Griner’s handwritten letter, and that the President will do everything in his power to get Griner and other detainees home. “We are going to use every tool we possibly can to make that happen,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “This is very personal to him.”
Griner was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport on Feb. 17 after the Russian Federal Customs Service claimed to have found vape cartridges containing the marijuana concentrate hashish oil in Griner’s luggage. She has been charged with “large-scale transportation of drugs, an offense that can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia,” according to the New York Times.
After 130 days of detention, Griner’s trial began on July 1. Per the Russian news agency TASS, Griner said in court she understood the charges against her, but declined to enter a plea. The trial is expected to continue on July 7 after a delay due to the absence of two witnesses.
At some point during her trial, Griner is likely to plead guilty, according to TJ Quinn of ESPN. Griner would do so “knowing that Russian officials would require an admission of guilt as part of a trade to send her home.”
Russian authorities have signaled an interest in a prisoner swap that would free convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence. However, the vast discrepancy between the two offenses would make such an exchange difficult for the White House to justify, per the New York Times.