Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said offering to release arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner and another American trapped in Russia, Paul Whelan, is not a good trade and sets a bad precedent.
Mr. Pompeo was reacting to the Biden administration’s decision to float a “substantial” trade with Moscow — one that’s believed to center on Bout, who is known as the “Merchant of Death” and serving a 25-year sentence for convictions on conspiracy to kill Americans and other charges.
“He’s a bad guy. He is a guy who wanted to kill Americans. It presents a real risk to the United States,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” “There’s a real reason the Russians want to get him home. To offer a trade like this is a dangerous precedent.”
Any prisoner swap is viewed as a risk for the Biden administration, which doesn’t want to encourage hostage taking or the unreasonable detention of Americans abroad by acceding to a foreign state’s demands.
On the other hand, the administration is under intense pressure to get the Americans home.
Earlier this year, Marine veteran Trevor Reed was traded for jailed Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.
Ms. Griner, who played basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, told a court she had vape cartridges with cannabis in her airport luggage in February, but she did not intend to violate the law.
Mr. Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges. He says he is innocent.
Mr. Pompeo acknowledged the Trump administration tried to get Mr. Whelan home but was unsuccessful — even if they did manage to spring other Americans detained abroad.
He said Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan never engaged in the type of alarming activities that Bout had, so the trade is a bit of a mismatch.
“This is not a good trade, not the right path forward, and it’ll likely lead to more,” Mr. Pompeo said.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
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