The White House has confirmed some details of the Oval Office meetings on Friday with family members of American Russia detainees Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former Marine has been detained in Russia since Dec. 2018, arrested on espionage charges which he insists are "fictitious."
In April, reports of a statement he released surfaced in which he questioned why more wasn't being done to secure his release and return home to the United States.
That same month a prisoner swap between the two countries secured the release of American Trevor Reed. He had been held in Russia since 2019 after being sentenced to nine years for an alleged altercation with Russian police.
Whelan said in a statement shared by his parents, "Why was I left behind? While I am pleased Trevor is home with his family, I have been held on a fictitious charge of espionage for 40 months." He said, "The world knows this charge was fabricated. Why hasn't more been done to secure my release?"
His sister Elizabeth Whelan was at the Friday White House meetings with President Biden along with Jake Sullivan, the assistant to the president for National Security Affairs.
Also in one of the Friday meetings was Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after she pleaded guilty.
Griner's agent Lindsay Colas also attended the meeting on Griner.
The Friday White House meetings were closed to the press, but details were confirmed by the White House press corps after they began at 4:51 p.m. ET.
The meetings were conducted separately, with the meeting regarding Whelan happening first, followed by the meeting concerning actions on Griner's case. The White House didn't confirm the time that the meetings concluded.
ESPN reported that White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "A substantial offer is on the table and they should accept it," referring to a possible deal with Russia to secure the release of the Americans.
A statement released by the White House after the meetings reads:
September 16, 2022
Statement by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on President Biden’s Meetings with Elizabeth Whelan and Cherelle Griner
President Biden met today with Elizabeth Whelan and Cherelle Griner, the loved ones of two American citizens who are wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances. Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, and Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, met separately with the President in the Oval Office.
The President held the meetings to reiterate his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely. He asked after the wellbeing of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time. The President appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long.
Today’s meetings come after earlier meetings and conversations that the President, his national security team, and the State Department have held with the Whelan and Griner families to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible. We all admire the courage of the Whelan and Griner families in the face of these unimaginable circumstances, and we remain committed to reuniting them with their loved ones.