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The worst trade in history: a timeline of events that led to the Biden Administration prioritizing Brittney Griner over Paul Whelan
Multiple administrations turned down Whelan for Bout.
The Biden Administration is in full damage control mode after making perhaps the worst trade in history, exchanging a WNBA star for a notorious Russian international warlord, while leaving behind a former U.S. service member in the process. Below is a detailed timeline that shows the events leading up to Thursday’s prisoner exchang.
December 2018: Former U.S. service member Paul Whelan is arrested in Russia on charges of espionage. U.S. denies he is a spy. There is no indication that the Russians placed any offer on the table until his sentencing.
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June 2020: Whelan is sentenced to 16 years in prison.
June 2020: At around the same time, the Kremlin approaches the Trump Administration to attempt to make a deal. They first offer Whelan up for Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, according to Russia’s Interfax. Bout, the notorious “merchant of death,” was convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans. Yaroshenko, a lower priority drug trafficker, was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison for conspiring to import more than US$100 million worth of cocaine.
The Trump Administration declines the offer.
According to former national security advisor John Bolton, the Russians then offered a one for one swap offer: Whelan for Bout. The Trump Administration again declined, not wanting to release the international warlord from custody.
July 30, 2020: U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed was sentenced to serve an excessive nine years in prison for a 2019 disputed incident involving alcohol and alleged violence against a Russian police officer.
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June, 2021: During a U.S.-Russia presidential summit, Russian officials indicate that they would like to exchange Reed and Whelan for Viktor Bout and Yaroshenko.
February 2022: WNBA player Brittney Griner, who had been playing basketball in a Russian league, is arrested and imprisoned in Russia on charges of drug smuggling.
April, 2022: Yaroshenko is exchanged for Trevor Reed. For the first reported time, the Biden Administration refuses to part ways with Bout in exchange for Whelan in a one for one trade.
July 27, 2022: The Biden Administration offers up Bout for both Whelan and Griner. Russia swiftly rejects the offer.
December 8, 2022: The Biden Administration accepts Russia’s counter “one for one” proposal, which reportedly included *either* Griner or Whelan. Griner is released by Russia exchange for Viktor Bout.
The Biden Administration prioritized Griner over the former U.S. service member, despite claiming otherwise. Paul Whelan remains behind bars in Russia.