WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has determined that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, meaning the United States will more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out, two U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Griner was detained at an airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing traces of cannabis oil. Since then, U.S. officials have stopped short of classifying the Phoenix Mercury player as wrongfully detained and said instead that their focus was on ensuring that she had access in jail to American consular affairs officials.
Now, though, U.S. officials have shifted supervision of her case to a State Department office focused on negotiating for the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.
It was unclear what prompted the shift, though President Joe Biden’s administration had been under pressure from members of Congress and others to make Griner’s release a priority.
Hugh Dugan, an American academic and diplomat who served as the acting special envoy for hostage affairs, told NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” when you’re arrested overseas for breaking the law, you’re supposed to be treated just like anyone else, foreign or domestic, who had broken a law.
“The determination that she is wrongfully (held) has to be qualified and I don’t know what the qualification is yet by this Biden Administration,” Dugan said.
“Whether they’ve determined that she’s being held for some reason other than having extensively broken the law, whether she’s being held as a political bargaining chip,” he continued.
ESPN first reported the classification in Griner’s case. Two U.S. officials confirmed it on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case by name.