(NewsNation) — The lawyer who represented notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout says Americans can rest easy even though his client is back home in Russia as part of a prisoner swap that freed basketball star Brittney Griner.
“The thing he wants to do more than anything is put his family back together,” Steve Zissou said on “NewsNation Prime” Saturday.
Zissou has long said Bout’s role in the arms business was overblown, and said the swap for Griner was “absolutely” fair.
Critics of the trade point to the crimes Bout and Griner were convicted of. Griner, a WNBA player who joined a team in Russia to supplement her income, was caught with hashish oil in her suitcase at a Russian airport.
Bout was serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons to militias and terrorists. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Thai Police lured Bout in a sting operation.
But Zissou has previously told NewsNation that operation was a trap. And retired U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who presided over Bout’s trial and sentenced him, said this summer she would have given him fewer than 25 years if statutes allowed.
There are other Americans in Russian jails, including retired Marine Paul Whelan and teacher Marc Fogel, and some had hoped freeing Bout could bring more than Griner back to America.
Zissou said that may have been true at one point, but not anymore.
“The U.S. government waited too long to be willing to trade Viktor,” he reasons, because his sentence was more than half over.
Now, Zissou says Bout is a compassionate man.
“He’s a very spiritual guy,” Zissou said. “He loves talking about antiquity. He cares about his fellow person. My guess is, and I’ve discussed it with him, he’s going to get involved in helping other Russians get free from U.S. jails.”
He’s skeptical Bout could reenter the arms dealer game if he wanted to, saying Bout left it before the sting and the industry is controlled by countries now.
“Does the U.S. have anything to fear from him? Absolutely not,” Zissou said.