Former Governor Bill Richardson was due to travel to Moscow to work for the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan


The planned trip to Moscow by the former New Mexico governor and diplomat, who works privately on behalf of families of hostages and detainees, comes amid efforts by the US government to free the two Americans and as the pressure is mounting to bring them home quickly.

Both Whelan and Griner are considered wrongfully detained by the US government, and both of their families have worked with the nonprofit Richardson Center.

CNN has reached out to the State Department and the National Security Council for comment on Richardson’s planned trip, which was first reported by ABC News.

Mickey Bergman, executive director of the Richardson Center, told CNN, “we are unable to comment on this at this time.”

News of the planned trip comes days after Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia since February after being arrested on drug charges, pleaded guilty in court outside Moscow. Griner, who the Russians said had two cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil each, told the court on Thursday that she was packing in a hurry and the cartridges accidentally ended up in her bag, and that she had no intention of breaking the law. . She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Richardson told CNN on Thursday after Griner’s call, “We believe that any prisoner in a situation like this should do what they think can help them survive the ordeal.”

“She is fighting for her life,” Richardson said, adding that he is “working hard to try to ensure the safe return” of Griner and Whelan from Russia, but declined to give further details due to the ” efforts underway”.

Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested in December 2018 on espionage charges which he vehemently denies. He was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial that US officials have denounced as unfair.

Richardson has a long history of working to free Americans held overseas and was instrumental in the release of Trevor Reed from Russian custody in April.

A source close to the situation told CNN in April after Reed’s release that members of the Richardson Center traveled to Moscow in February, in the days immediately preceding the Russian war in Ukraine, to meet with Russian leaders. . As a result of this visit, the Richardson Center came away with a clear idea of ​​what the Russians were prepared to do and how they were prepared to do it, which was presented to the White House.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that working to secure the release of Griner and Whelan, as well as the Americans wrongfully detained abroad, is a top priority.

President Joe Biden spoke by phone last week with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and wrote the star WNBA player a letter, in response to his own written message, which was shared to him at court last week. Following his call with Cherelle Griner, the president also spoke by phone with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan.

CNN’s Chuck Johnston, Anna Chernova, Abby Phillip, Dakin Andone and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.


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