Arizona politicians react to news of Phoenix WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release
PHOENIX – News of Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison was welcomed by political leaders in Arizona.
The seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was freed Thursday in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout orchestrated by the Biden administration.
Most of the immediate response from Arizona politicians came from Democrats, although Republican Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted that it was “Excellent news!”
Excellent news! Arizona looks forward to welcoming Brittney home. https://t.co/E7LHbHymkV
— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) December 8, 2022
After nearly 300 days, Brittney Griner is coming home.
This is the day we worked towards and prayed for.
— Rep. Greg Stanton (@RepGregStanton) December 8, 2022
Stanton’s resolution, which passed the House on June 24, was cosponsored by fellow Arizona Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick, Tom O’Halleran, Ruben Gallego and Raul Grijalva and Republicans Debbie Lesko and David Schweikert.
Stanton also discussed the Griner situation with President Joe Biden while the flew together to Phoenix earlier on Tuesday.
“We never gave up hope and continued to push the White House to free her. I hope Brittney enjoys much-deserved rest with her family — safely back in the U.S.,” Gallego posted.
Today is a joyous day. Thanks to the relentless efforts by the Biden Administration, Brittney Griner is coming home.
We never gave up hope and continued to push the White House to free her. I hope Brittney enjoys much-deserved rest with her family—safely back in the U.S.
— Ruben Gallego (@RepRubenGallego) December 8, 2022
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego expressed her gratitude to Stanton and Biden.
— Mayor Kate Gallego (@MayorGallego) December 8, 2022
This unjust detention is over and Brittney Griner is coming home. I’m so happy for her wife Cherelle and their whole family. Thank you to everyone who advocated for Brittney’s release and to the State Department and White House who worked so hard to make this happen.
— Senator Mark Kelly (@SenMarkKelly) December 8, 2022
Following her wrongful detainment earlier this year, we've closely engaged with @StateDept and introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for Brittney's release. I know we're all relieved the day has come. Arizona – and America – welcomes her back with open arms. 2/2
— Kyrsten Sinema (@SenatorSinema) December 8, 2022
Kelly and Sinema cosponsored a Senate resolution calling for Griner’s release in July. The resolution didn’t get a vote.
Grijalva vowed to “continue our work to end the wrongful detainment of Americans abroad.”
I'm grateful for the news that Brittney Griner will make her safe return to the US.
The Biden admin and many public servants who achieved this moment deserve our gratitude and praise.
Together, we'll continue our work to end the wrongful detainment of Americans abroad. https://t.co/Ac9i0z9IIs
— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) December 8, 2022
The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner’s monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu-Dhabi and that Bout has been flown home.
The fact that the deal was a one-for-one swap was a surprise given that U.S. officials had for months expressed their determination to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government has said are baseless.
“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Biden said. “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”
Griner was arrested for drug possession at an airport outside of Moscow while returning to her team in Russia on Feb. 17, 2022. Customs officials said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.
On Aug. 4, she was sentenced to nine years in prison. Her appeal was denied on Oct. 25, and she was transferred to a penal colony in the western Russian region of Mordovia on Nov. 17.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.