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Biden Speaks to Brittney Griner’s Wife, Cherelle, About Russia

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On Wednesday, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, the wife of the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner, based on a press release released by the White House. Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia on drug charges since February.

In the course of the call, Biden read a draft of a letter he planned to send to Brittney Griner.

“The president offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to making sure they’re supplied with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home,” the statement read.

Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, accused by the Russian authorities of getting a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. Her trial began on Friday. On Monday, Brittney Griner sent a letter to Biden pleading for his help.

“I’m terrified I could be here perpetually,” Griner said in an excerpt from the letter shared by her representatives. She continued: “I realize you might be coping with a lot, but please don’t ignore me and the opposite American detainees. Please do all you may to bring us home.”

The U.S. government has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained” and is working to secure her release whatever the final result of the trial.

Wednesday’s statement from the White House described Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances.”

It also said Biden had instructed his national security team to maintain “regular contact” with Cherelle Griner and Brittney Griner’s family. Cherelle Griner has publicly expressed frustration with Biden and his administration’s efforts to secure her wife’s release.

On Tuesday, Cherelle Griner appeared on “CBS Mornings” and spoke about her disappointment that Brittney Griner’s family had not received a reply from the president to Brittney Griner’s letter.

“I won’t be quiet anymore,” Cherelle Griner said. “My wife is struggling, and we have now to assist her.”

The ladies have been in a position to communicate with one another only through letters. In June, Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press that a scheduled call with Brittney Griner never got through to her due to a staffing issue on the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. She said she had not spoken to her wife because the day Brittney Griner was detained.

Experts said Brittney Griner’s trial was more likely to end in a conviction. She faces as much as 10 years in a penal colony if she is convicted.

“There’s a bias mainly since the Russian judicial system says they really mustn’t go to trial unless the defendant goes to be convicted,” said William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Kennan Institute and an authority on Russian law. “There’s no real idea or expectation that the defendant might be innocent. There’s no presumption of innocence, really.”

One pathway to securing the discharge of an American detained abroad is a prisoner swap. Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been imprisoned in Russia on assault charges since August 2019, was released in a prisoner swap in April. Reed had been sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020.

Griner has played for the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury because the franchise drafted her first overall in 2013. She won a W.N.B.A. championship in 2014 and has won two gold medals with the U.S. women’s national basketball team.

She was in Russia because she played for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a team known for being amongst the very best paying women’s basketball teams on this planet.

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