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Dennis Rodman says he’ll Russia to hunt release of Brittney Griner

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Former NBA great Dennis Rodman on March 10, 2019 in Century City, California.

Michael Tullberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Former NBA player Dennis Rodman said Saturday that he plans to go to Russia to hunt the discharge of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges earlier this month.

“I got permission to go to Russia to assist that girl,” Rodman told NBC News at a restaurant in D.C. “I’m attempting to go this week.”

If Rodman goes to Russia, it won’t be the primary time he has conducted informal diplomacy with a world leader who has strained relations with the U.S.

Rodman has cultivated a relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the past decade, making multiple visits to the hermit kingdom. He called Russian President Vladimir Putin “cool” after a 2014 trip to Moscow. In 2018, he showed up on the sidelines of former President Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore. And he has credited himself with helping to secure the discharge of American Kenneth Bae from North Korea.

The U.S. has imposed stiff sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine and is aiding Ukraine’s forces. Griner’s imprisonment has created an extra source of tension between the 2 countries — and a possible avenue for diplomacy.

Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has been involved in past hostage negotiations, told The Associated Press this month that he was optimistic about the possibilities for a prisoner swap that might bring Griner and one other American, Paul Whelan, back to the U.S.

Rodman doesn’t need special permission from the U.S. to enter Russia — only a visa from Moscow — however the State Department has issued a travel advisory that strongly discourages Americans from visiting the country.

“Don’t travel to Russia,” the State Department advises, citing a litany of reasons, including the “unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” potential “harassment against U.S. residents by Russian government security officials” and the potential of “wrongful detention.”

NBC News has reached out to White House national security officials for comment on Rodman’s plans to travel to Russia to have interaction within the Griner case. Rodman was in Washington for a sneaker convention.

Though he has a rather more established relationship with Kim, Rodman expressed confidence in his understanding of Russia’s president.

“I do know Putin too well,” he said.

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