‘Disgraceful abdication’: Potential 2024 contenders slam Biden’s swap of WNBA player for ‘Merchant of Death’
Top Republican contenders for the 2024 presidential race spoke out against President Biden's prisoner swap with Russia that released a convicted arms dealer.
On Thursday, Biden traded WNBA player Brittney Giner for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested in 2008 on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans through global arms trade – earning the moniker 'Merchant of Death.' Meanwhile, Marine veteran Paul Whelan remains in Russian prison.
The exchange was celebrated for Griner's release, though many criticized the swap for leaving Whelan behind.
'The return of any American hostage should be celebrated, but we cannot take our eyes off Paul Whelan and the pain his family is feeling today. This was not a fair trade for the 'Merchant of Death' and signals to Putin that he will be rewarded for imprisoning Americans,' Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and rumored 2024 contender, told Fox News Digital in response to the trade.
Following the announcement Griner's return home, Whelan's brother raised concerns over the possible repercussions of the trade and the need for a more effective approach to releasing detained Americans from foreign custody.
'As the use of wrongful detentions and hostage diplomacy continues around the globe, it's clear the U.S. government needs to be more assertive. If bad actors like Russia are going to grab innocent Americans, the U.S. needs a swifter, more direct response and to be prepared in advance,' David Whelan said. 'In Russia's case, this may mean taking more law-breaking, Kremlin-connected Russians into custody. It's not like there aren't plenty around the world.'
Sen. Tim Scott, R-N.C., posted a statement to Twitter following the release, saying he is thankful Griner is heading home, but blasted Biden for 'a disgraceful abdication' of leadership.
'I hope Brittney continues to use her platform to keep the pressure to bring former Marine Paul Whelan home. Leaving Paul in Russia to Putin's whim would be a disgraceful abdication of Biden's leadership,' Scott, another rumored GOP contender for the White House, stated.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., also expressed her concern for leaving Whelan behind. 'Joe Biden left a Marine stranded behind enemy lines,' the Senator posted to Twitter.
Whelan has been in Russian custody since 2018 on espionage charges, while Griner was detained in February after authorities discovered vape cartridges in her luggage that contained a small amount of cannabis oil.
Despite backlash for the trade, White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre said that the White House will not apologize for releasing Griner, and they are continuing to negotiate the release of Whelan. 'The president felt a moral obligation to bring Brittney home. There was an opportunity to do that, and it was either Brittney or no one at all, and we are not going to apologize for that,' Jean-Pierre said during a White House press briefing Thursday.
Fox News' Thomas Phippen contributed to this story.
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