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Biden Speaks to Brittney Griner’s Wife After WNBA Star Pens Letter From Russian Prison

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Cherelle Griner spoke to Cherelle Griner. Cherelle Griner is the wife of Brittney Griner (WNBA player and Olympic gold medalist), who was arrested in Russia on February 23rd on charges related to bringing marijuana oil vape cartridges into this country. Biden and Harris spoke by telephone with Cherelle Griner, just days after Harris received Brittney Griner’s handwritten letter begging him to act on Griner’s behalf as well as the cases of American citizens being detained abroad.

“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittneys release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” the White House said in a statement published by CNN. “He also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending to Brittney Griner today.”

The statement from the White House added that Biden “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.”

The White House also said that Biden had responded to the letter Griner sent from Russia last week, noting that the president had received the letter on Monday’s Independence Day holiday. According to the White House, Biden had also shared his answer with Cherelle griner during their conversation.

Basketball Star Retained in February

Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since the 2013 season, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also twice won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team.

Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA’s off-season, a practice common among the league’s players. Griner makes about $4 million per year to play for Russia. Griner played the latest game on Jan 29 with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg, just before the Russian League took a break to qualify for the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.

The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport. According to the report, the date and name of the arrested woman were not provided. Russian authorities have also published a video that appears to show the star centre with customs officials at an international airport security checkpoint.

The Russian state media agency TASS then reported Griner was the player who had been arrested. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February 17. Her detention continues in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been widely condemned by the international community.

On Friday, Griner’s trial on charges of possession of cannabis vape charges began in a courtroom outside Moscow. CNN reported that the “prosecution argues that Griner intended to import the drugs into Russia’s territory and put the prohibited substances into a backpack and a suitcase,” and that cannabis oil “is subject to control in Russia and is classified as a narcotic drug.”

Griner from Russian Prison Sends Biden a Letter

Biden was contacted last week by the WNBA star centre, asking for his assistance in securing her release.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” reads an excerpt of the letter obtained by CNN.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” Griner continued humbly. “Please do all you can to bring us home. In 2020, I voted my first time and voted in your favor. You are my hero. You can do so many things for me that I don’t know how to. My wife is missing me! I miss my family! My teammates are my family! I am so sorry that they are going through this. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

Brittney Griner sent the letter to Biden in the early morning of July 4. Three excerpts of the letter were released by the White House, with the note that all correspondence will be kept confidential.

“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran,” Griner wrote. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”

Griner could spend up to 10 years prison for being convicted. On Friday, Griner is due to be tried again.