Legal advisor weighs in on Brittney Griner prisoner swap: 'get all the Americans out'

FOX 32 Chicago spoke to a former legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Russia regarding the prisoner swap of Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout.

Tom Firestone says the swap was a very difficult decision for the Biden administration, who opted to go ahead with this prisoner swap even though other Americans are still wrongly detained in Russia.

"I think they just got to a point, there was a lot of back and forth, and the Biden administration just realized this was the price to get her out," said Tom Firestone.

A steep price, as the U.S. released Bout, nicknamed "The Merchant of Death," a man convicted of selling arms to terrorists for the explicit purpose of killing Americans.


"The Russians were able to play that as a big victory from a propaganda perspective domestically, so I think that's why it happened," said Firestone.

Left out of the deal was 61-year-old former Marine Paul Whelan, serving 16 years on an espionage conviction. President Biden expressed regret over not being able to secure Whelan's release.

"Whelan still needs to be gotten out, and there are other Americans," said Firestone. "I hope this provides a precedent and momentum to go forward and get all the Americans out."

Whelan's family members say they are devastated he wasn't included in the deal.

"For whatever reason Paul is beyond what the Russian government has been able to tag a potential concession for," said his brother David. "I think Brittney Griner shouldn't spend a single day – no wrongful detainee should spend a single day – more in detention than they have to."

Whelan isn't the only American wrongly detained in Russia right now. There is also a 61-year-old teacher serving 14 years there on a cannabis charge.

Making negotiations even more difficult is obviously the war with Ukraine. Firestone says the political relationship between America and Russia is as bad as it has been in decades.