President Joe Biden issued a statement about the nine-year sentence for Brittney Griner, saying she “received a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully holding Brittney.”
“It is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately to be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates. My government will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he added.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said that “Ms. Griner was detained illegally, but beyond that, I really can’t comment.”
National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby told MSNBC that he “should never have been tried in the first place. So there should be no proposal … We will continue to insist that we have consular access to Ms. Griner so that we can make sure that we can maintain that communication.”
Regarding a possible prisoner exchange with the Russians, Admiral Kirby said that “we have made a serious offer to the Russians to try to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan … home where they belong. And we urge the Russians to seriously consider this proposal to follow through on it.”
Speaking about the possibility that the Russians might want to add another prisoner to the exchange, he said: “We interpreted the leaks about this from the Russian side as just a bad faith attempt to avoid and obfuscate … what is a really serious proposal that we have made before … weeks”.
Julia Ioffe of Puck News tweeted that “nine years is a very, very long sentence. When a Russian lawyer who works on these types of charges told me that 6-7 years ‘wouldn’t be a bad result’ for Griner, he wasn’t wrong.”
Ms. Ioffe added that “Americans don’t fully understand what Brittney Griner’s reality will look like in a Russian penal colony: She is very tall, black, and American. It really stands out. And he doesn’t speak Russian, which makes it much more difficult to navigate the complex rules and hierarchies.”
“Russia is not our friend. It is a hostile foreign adversary going after an innocent person as a political pawn as trade bait for a prisoner exchange,” NBC legal analyst Barb McQuade wrote.
CNN’s Abby Phillips tweeted: “This news is obviously devastating to Brittney Griner’s family. But it is not completely unexpected. The most likely solution to this for Griner has ALWAYS been for the US and Russia to strike a prisoner exchange deal, which remains on the table.’
Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign, Joni Madison, said in a statement that Ms. Griner is “an American hero who is much more than a WNBA superstar and Olympian.”
He added that Ms. Griner is being “unlawfully detained” and that “we join so many of Britney’s loved ones – her friends, teammates and family – in sending her support as she endures this unimaginable hardship, so far from home her”.
“Today’s harsh sentencing is just the latest example of how he is being used as a political pawn – and it must stop. It’s time to bring Britney home, and we support the Biden administration’s efforts to do so,” he said.
“It’s interesting to see Americans refuse to sympathize with Brittney Griner on the grounds that she ‘should have known better’ when most Americans have little to no idea how their criminal system works or punishes. [and] they often end up SHOCKED by the legal consequences of their actions,” New York attorney Olayemi Olurin tweeted. “I’ve had so many incredible calls from customers in America going ‘so they can do this?! Can someone just lie on top of me and get locked up?’ to entertain people pretending they knew or should know the secrets of Russia’s system. Be true.”
Comedian Ian Karmel added: “It’s crazy to me the number of Americans celebrating Brittney Griner’s prison sentence. We need to show Rocky 4 immediately for all the racists in the country.”
Kimberly St Julian-Varnon, PhD in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania, tweeted that “we can’t wait for a prisoner exchange to happen soon. There is an appeals process and Russia must be willing to negotiate with the US.”
“I say this to help Americans understand the seriousness of this situation and the limited power that the United States has. The anger that many people feel right now should not be directed at the Biden administration (at least not about this). Patience is the key,” he added.