White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre sparred with Fox News reporter Peter Doocy after he suggested Russia got "such a better deal” when the White House secured the release of professional basketball player Brittney Griner in a prisoner exchange with Russia after she was sentenced to nine years on drug smuggling charges.
Jean-Pierre was quick to remind Doocy Griner is "an American citizen" and countered any suggestion Griner should not have been released in exchange for a convicted Russian arms trafficker who had been nicknamed "The Merchant of Death."
You can watch what happened in the video below.
Griner, a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), was detained by Russian customs after cartridges containing less than an ounce of hashish oil for personal use were found in her luggage.
American officials expressed concern Russia was using her as leverage in response to the Western sanctions imposed against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. News outlets reported over the summer the American government offered to swap Griner and United States Marine Paul Whelan for Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker.
Ultimately, Russia agreed to swap Griner for Bout, an entrepreneur and former Soviet military translator who reportedly used his multiple air transport companies to smuggle weapons since the collapse of the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe to Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2011, Bout was convicted by a jury in a Manhattan federal court of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles and providing aid to a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment.
These facts enraged right-wingers who suggested Griner deserved to stay in Russia and Democratic President Joe Biden should have prioritized securing the release of Whelan and Marc Fogel, a teacher who was arrested and later sentenced for trying to enter Russia with about half an ounce of medical marijuana he had been prescribed in the U.S. for chronic pain.
When Doocy questioned why Russia had gotten "such a better deal," Jean-Pierre responded:
"Look, I've talked about this and I'll say this again. Here were our choices: Our choice was Brittney or no one at all, bringing home one American or no American at all."
At this point Doocy interjected, saying Russia only "gave up a professional athlete" while the U.S. "gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans."
To that, Jean-Pierre responded:
"The professional athlete is also an American citizen, so let's not forget that, who deserved... and I've explaned how the Russians have illegally and totally illegitimately treated this situation."
"I've been very clear on that. We've laid that out for you and again, the President felt this was an opportunity to bring Brittney home."
"He is going to continue to do everything he can to bring Paul Whelan home just like he did with [U.S. Marine] Trevor Reed, to secure Trevor Reed's release."
Many have praised Jean-Pierre for the way she handled her back-and-forth with Doocy.
Many also pointed out Paul Whelan was imprisoned in 2018—during the presidency of Donald Trump.
Griner arrived in the U.S. earlier today after ten months in Russian captivity.
She arrived at the U.S. Army’s Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and was then taken to the Brooke Army Medical Center, the facility confirmed in a statement.
The facility said the U.S. government "is focused on ensuring that Brittney Griner and her family’s well-being are prioritized and that all assistance available be offered in an appropriate manner."
President Biden confirmed he'd spoken with Griner during an appearance alongside Cherelle Griner, Griner's wife. He said Griner "will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones—and she should have been there all along."