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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, on Wednesday after public calls for more contact over the WNBA star's imprisonment in Russia.
The White House described the phone call as Biden offering his support and assuring Cherelle his administration is actively pursuing Griner's release. Biden also reportedly read her a draft of a letter he was sending to Brittney the same day.
The White House's full summary:
President Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, spoke today with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner who is wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances. The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney's release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world. He also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending to Brittney Griner today.
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. Today's call follows recent calls that National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken have had with Cherelle in recent weeks and this past weekend. The President directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney's family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible.
Griner has been imprisoned in Russia since February, when authorities took her into custody after allegedly finding cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage as she was entering the country to play for her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The U.S. State Department classified Griner as wrongfully detained in May. Without U.S. help, she will remain in Russian jail for at least six more months and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on drug smuggling charges. Her trial is currently underway and a conviction is widely expected.
Cherelle Griner reacts to call with Biden, Harris
Cherelle confirmed via an Instagram post that she had received a call from Biden and Harris, saying she believes her wife will know she hasn't been forgotten:
This morning I received a call from President Biden and Vice President Harris. I am grateful to the both of them 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. I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.
I want to thank everyone who has fought so hard for BG. It means the world to my entire family as well as my wife.
Please continue to pray for my family and all the other families of the wrongfully detained, as our pain remains active until our loved ones are brought home. Let’s continue to use our voices to speak the names of all the wrongfully detained Americans and support the Administration as they do what it takes to bring them home today.
Cherelle Griner called out Biden administration
As Brittney's detention has played out, Cherelle and many WNBA figures have publicly pressured the Biden administration into taking action. Cherelle complained on CBS Mornings of a lack of response from Biden to Brittney's letter sent on the 4th of July and "failed" attempts by her family to reach the president.
She called the situation "disheartening" and speculated her wife sent the letter to push for a meeting:
"She's there and she knows that we are doing everything that we can in our own strength to ask to meet with the president and to request that they do everything they can to get her home," Cherelle said. "And it kills me every time when I have to write her and she's asking, 'Have you met with him yet?' And I have to say, no. I'm sure she's like, 'I'm going to write him and ask now, because my family has tried and to no avail. So I'm going to do it myself.'"
While Biden apparently didn't respond to Brittney's letter before Wednesday, a National Security Council spokesperson said his team has been in regular contact with her family:
"President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home. The President's team is in regular contact with Brittney's family and we will continue to work to support her family.
The spokesperson also noted national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have spoken several times with Cherelle in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the White House confirmed Biden had read Brittney's letter and reiterated her case was a priority.