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Biden spoke with Paul Whelan’s sister amid pressure to bring detained Americans home

“Today, President Biden called Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan who has been wrongfully detained by Russia since 2018. President Biden reaffirmed that he is committed to bringing Paul home as soon as possible, and the U.S. government will continue its efforts to secure the release of Paul as well as Brittney Griner and all other Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world,” the White House official said.

“The U.S. government will continue to be in regular contact with Paul’s family, and with the families of other Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to provide support and assistance and keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones,” the White House official continued.

In an interview with CNN Wednesday, Elizabeth Whelan expressed anger that the White House seemed to be “showing favoritism” and questioned why Biden hadn’t spoken with her family. Whelan and Griner are both currently detained in Russia.

“I want Brittney home as much as anybody else does. But why is Paul not getting the same type of level of attention? Why are the Whelans not getting a call? Why is Paul not going to have a letter written by the President? (Paul’s) made plenty of statements to the President,” she told CNN. “I’m really angry. I’m really angry.”

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Elizabeth Whelan on Thursday.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke by phone Wednesday with Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, and the President also wrote a letter in response to Brittney Griner’s handwritten letter.

The wife of the two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist said in a news conference Friday that Biden understood the letter written to him by Griner and that “he sees her as a person.”

Griner, who was arrested in February at a Moscow airport after Russian officials say they found cannabis oil in her luggage, pleaded guilty to drug charges on Thursday.

The US State Department has classified her wrongfully detained, and she faces up to 10 years in prison.

The renewed calls for Whelan and Griner’s release come just a few months after US citizen and former Marine, Trevor Reed, who had been detained in Russia since 2019, was released in a prisoner swap deal.

He had been sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 after being accused of endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers. Reed’s deteriorating health, his family’s consistent activism which led to a meeting with Biden, and the situation in Ukraine — led Biden to authorize the prisoner swap in April.

Upon his release, Reed’s family told CNN, “He said, ‘I feel horrible about being home and not having Paul here.’ He said, ‘I don’t understand why I’m here and Paul’s not.’ “

This story has been updated with additional details.

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