Arizona politicians react to news of Phoenix WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release

Dec 8, 2022, 10:00 AM
Supporters hold up signs reading "Bring Brittney Home" during a rally to support the release of det...
Supporters hold up signs reading "Bring Brittney Home" during a rally to support the release of detained American professional athlete Britney Griner at Footprint Center on July 6, 2022, in Phoenix. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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!”

U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, who sponsored a resolution to press for Griner’s release in May, tweeted, “This is the day we worked towards and prayed for.”

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.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego expressed her gratitude to Stanton and Biden.

Arizona’s U.S. senators, Democrats Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, also weighed in.

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.”

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.

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Arizona politicians react to news of Phoenix WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release