US diplomat says Brittney Griner's physical health 'seems to be just fine'
(The Hill) – Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs who traveled with Brittney Griner back to the U.S. after her detainment in Russia, said her physical health appears to be “just fine.”
“She looks great,” Carstens told co-anchor Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” of Griner.
“I mean, she was full of energy,” Carstens added. “Looked fantastic. She’s in Fort Sam Houston right now undergoing some medical evaluations, but she seems to be just fine.”
President Biden on Thursday announced a prisoner swap securing Griner’s release from Russia, where she had been imprisoned since February, in exchange for the U.S. releasing infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The Biden administration for months looked to secure the release of Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow-area airport in February for carrying vape cartridges containing marijuana oil in her luggage.
The U.S. considered Griner wrongfully detained after she was arrested just prior to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. After being found guilty and losing her appeal, Griner was transferred to a Russian penal colony with a grim reputation.
Carstens, who met Griner and flew back with her to the U.S., said he offered to give Griner some space so she could decompress on the plane, but Carstens indicated Griner instead was eager to talk.
“On an 18 hour flight, she probably spent 12 hours just talking. We talked about everything under the sun,” Carstens said on CNN, adding that he will let Griner herself explain in more detail the conditions during her imprisonment.
The Biden administration has garnered criticism, however, for failing to free former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who Russia has imprisoned for four years on espionage charges that Whelan vehemently denies. Conservatives have also attacked the administration for freeing Bout, a notorious arms dealer who delivered weapons to multiple sanctioned regimes.
The White House has defended its decision, indicating Russia refused to release Whelan and portraying the move as either bringing Griner home or neither of them.
“Even as we’re welcoming someone home, we still have work to do,” Carstens told Bash. “So as I’m shaking Britney’s hands and we’re taking to the aircraft and having this great conversation. My brain is already thinking about Paul Whelan. What can we do to get him back?”
When pressed on why U.S. officials have not acted on Biden’s executive order from July allowing for sanctions against people involved in hostage taking, Carstens indicated such actions are forthcoming.
“Believe me, we’re working on target packages right now,” he said on CNN. “It’s something that we discuss all the time. And it’s not going to be too long before you see something rolled out.”