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Sen. Bob Menendez rips Griner-Blout prisoner exchange, pledges return of U.S. Marine Paul Whelan

The New Jersey Senator said he would use the power of Congress to safeguard the return of American Paul  Whelan

Brittney Griner center for Phoenix Mercury at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix,AZ USA May 23, 2017
Brittney Griner center for Phoenix Mercury at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix,AZ USA May 23, 2017 | Shutterstock

December 9, 2022 7:46am

Updated: February 19, 2023 8:05am

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey who currently serves as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee lashed out Thursday against the White House’s prisoner exchange Thursday of a Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for basketball star Brittney Griner.

Griner was detained in a Moscow airport in February for coming into the country with a cannabis-filled vape cartridge, a charge to which she pleaded guilty this summer.

Bout is a Russian weapons trafficker who was convicted on terrorism charges in 2011 for attempting to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of missiles to Colombia’s FARC to down U.S. military helicopters, according to the Daily Wire.

“This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize we have a serious problem with hostage-taking of Americans,” Menendez said in a statement.

“The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griner’s of the world and people like Viktor Bout, the so-called 'Merchant of Death.' Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision.”

“We must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips, and we must try to do better at encouraging American citizens against traveling to places like Russia where they are primary targets for this type of unlawful detention,” he said.

Menendez also said ex-Marine Paul Whelan, who was charged with espionage and taken into custody in Russia in 2018.

"My heart also goes out to the families of other American citizens in Russian prisons and labor camps, including Paul Whelan," Menendez said.

"They have my renewed commitment and determination to use the power of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to secure Mr. Whelan’s safe return and to continue fighting for the release of all Russian political prisoners, like Vladimir Kara Murza, and all other unjustly detained Americans."