President Joe Biden has yet to respond to a letter handwritten by WNBA star Brittney Griner while she remains detained in Russia, Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said on Tuesday.
“I still have not heard from him. And honestly, it’s very disheartening,” Cherelle Griner told “CBS Mornings.”
Brittney Griner has remained in Russian detention since February when she was arrested for allegedly having cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage, Russian customs officials said. Her trial began on Friday following multiple extensions of her detention and it will resume this week.
The WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist wrote a letter to Biden for the July 4th weekend and her agency released excerpts on the holiday. She wrote she is “terrified I might be here forever” and asked that Biden not “forget about me and the other American Detainees” and “do all you can to bring us home.”
Cherelle, who has only been able to communicate with her wife through letters, said she believes Griner wrote it now because she “cherishes the Fourth of July.” Griner’s father was a Vietnam War veteran and Cherelle said Griner looks forward to using the day to honor her father and host friends and family. She also tells people she would join the military if she weren’t a basketball player, Cherelle said on “CBS Mornings.”
Cherelle Griner describes ‘failed attempts’ to talk to Biden
Those around Griner, including WNBA players and the WNBPA Players Association (WNBPA), have been pushing Biden to find a way to bring Griner back home. Nearly 50 civil and human rights organizations sent a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urging them to bring Griner home “immediately and safely.”
It is the first time that Griner has made a similar push to the president. Cherelle told “CBS Mornings” she isn’t sure why Griner chose to write because they haven’t been able to speak since, but feels “confident” it was because of the “failed attempts” the family has had at reaching Biden.
“She’s there and she knows that we are doing everything that we can in our own strength to ask to meet with the president and to request that they do everything they can to get her home,” Cherelle said. “And it kills me every time when I have to write her and she’s asking, ‘Have you met with him yet?’ And I have to say, no. I’m sure she’s like, ‘I’m going to write him and ask now, because my family has tried and to no avail. So I’m going to do it myself.'”
She was taken into custody on Feb. 17, more than 140 days ago, while at the Moscow airport. Griner, 31, was returning to her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, out of the international break. Most WNBA players go overseas in the league’s offseason to make the bulk of their annual incomes. She faces 10 years in prison and the U.S. government switched her status to “wrongfully detained” in in May.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” Griner wrote in the letter. “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former Marine, was initially detained in December 2018 on espionage charges that he has consistently denied. He was convicted and given 16 years in prison in June 2020 and the U.S. government has said the trial was unfair. Trevor Reed, a fellow American and former Marine, was brought home in a prisoner swap in April.
White House in ‘regular contact’ with Griners
The White House reiterated its stance that Russia is “wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner” in a statement on Monday. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said, via CNN:
“President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home. The President’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family and we will continue to work to support her family.
Watson added that national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “have spoken several times with Brittney’s wife in recent weeks and the White House is closely coordinating with the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who has met with Brittney’s family, her teammates, and her support network.”
In a separate statement, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken “has spoken to Cherelle in the last several days, and he will continue to remain deeply and personally engaged on this case.”
The initial tactic after Griner’s detention was for family and friends to keep it quiet so as to not increase her “value” to the Russian government. That changed when the designation was switched to wrongfully detained. But Cherelle said she recognizes there’s a line she has to carefully walk between the two still.
“I will find that balance of harm vs. help in pushing our government to do everything that is possible because being quiet — they’re not moving, they are not doing anything and so my wife is struggling and we have to help her.”
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