Fox News host Tucker Carlson tore into the White House over the prisoner swap that secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, accusing the administration of favoring Griner over former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
While officials pushed for the release of both Americans held in Russia and said Moscow didn’t give an option for which one could be released, Carlson claimed the U.S. advocated harder for Griner’s release because it would be more popular with Biden voters.
He also knocked White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s comments earlier Thursday offering a “personal” reflection on Griner’s release, when she spoke of Griner being “an important role model” for the LGBT and Black communities.
“So there’s Joe Biden’s press secretary telling you that Brittney Griner is important because she’s a lesbian woman of color,” Carlson said on his show.
“Those facts might seem irrelevant to you. We hope they do seem irrelevant because they are,” he asserted. “But they’re not irrelevant to the White House press secretary. In the view of the White House press secretary, those are essential qualifications for a prisoner swap.”
“In the view of the White House press secretary, those are essential qualifications for a prisoner swap,” he asserted.
Griner was freed on Thursday, nearly 10 months after she was first arrested at a Moscow airport for carrying vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in prison this summer and transferred to a Russian penal colony last month.
The Biden administration secured Griner’s release by agreeing to hand over convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. However, they were unable to secure the release of Whelan, who was first arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Whelan said on Thursday that he was “greatly disappointed” that more has not been done to obtain his release.
However, a senior administration official said that the Russians only gave the U.S. a “choice between bringing home one particular American, Brittney Griner, or bringing home none.”
The official also noted that the espionage charges levied against Whelan have made his release more difficult.
“Regrettably due to the nature of the sham espionage charges Russia levied against Paul, the Russians have treated, continue to treat, his situation differently from Brittney’s and rejected each and every one of our proposals for his release,” the official said.
Carlson’s criticisms of Thursday’s prisoner exchange echoed those of various GOP lawmakers, who decried the Biden administration for releasing Bout and not freeing Whelan.
“This move to appease Vladimir Putin will only encourage further hostage taking by Russian security forces,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the House Armed Services Committee ranking member. “While I welcome the release of Brittney Griner, I cannot help but think about Paul Whelan — as he has apparently been abandoned by the Biden administration.”
Former President Trump also attacked the swap as a “stupid and unpatriotic embarrassment.”
“What kind of a deal is it to swap Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our country for the man known as ‘The Merchant of Death,’” he said.
This story was updated at 1:02 p.m.