Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will head to Moscow in the near future to participate in talks to try and secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, according to ABC News.
Richardson is expected to travel to Russia in the next couple of weeks, an anonymous source told ABC News. It’s unclear when that will take place, or who Richardson will meet with specifically when he’s there.
“What I can say [and is publicly known] is both the Whelan and Griner families have asked us to help with the release of their loved ones,” the executive director at the Richardson Center for Global Engagement told ABC News in an email.
Richardson, 74, served as the governor of New Mexico from 2003-11. He’s also served as a member of the House of Representatives, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Griner has been detained in Russia since February after officials there said they found vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. Griner pleaded guilty to a drug charge earlier this month, and she’s facing up to 10 years in prison. Her guilty plea is largely considered a smart strategy by experts, both as about 99 percent of all Russian court cases end in a conviction and a guilty plea could open the door for a quicker release.
"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law," Griner said in court. "I'd like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare."
Griner is due in court next on July 14. She has been deemed a “wrongfully detained” citizen by the United States government, and the White House said that Griner’s release is “a priority” for President Joe Biden — who received a handwritten letter from Griner earlier this month. Griner was front and center throughout the WNBA All-Star festivities this weekend in Chicago, too.
The Griner family has recruited Richardson to help in recent months. After finishing his second term as governor in 2011, Richardson started a nonprofit organization that helps with global conflict resolution and prisoner release. He helped free American journalist Danny Fenster from a Myanmar prison last year, and he helped secure the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed from Russia in April.
“When we get involved, we try to move and isolate the issue from the policy and political and into the humanitarian realm,” Richardson Center vice president Mickey Bergman told Yahoo Sports. “We do not work for the U.S. government, but we inform them of our efforts and coordinate with them, when it is helpful for the release.”
While Richardson’s office declined to comment, he did tell CNN on Thursday that he is “working hard on trying to secure the safe return” of both Griner and Whelan — who was arrested in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges.
“We believe that any prisoner in a situation like this needs to do what they believe can help them survive the ordeal,” he said on CNN.
“She is fighting for her life.”