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Biden speak on phone with Brittney Griner after release from Russia

In this White House handout photo taken in the Oval Office, as Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken look on, at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 8, 2022. The White House/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Griner from the Oval Office, along with Griner’s wife, Cherelle.

The White House released a photo of the telephone call.

“These past few months have been hell for Brittney,” and for her wife, Biden said.

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A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia, were found in her luggage.

She was sentenced on Aug. 4 to nine years in a penal colony on charges of possessing and smuggling drugs. She had pleaded guilty, but said she had made an “honest mistake” and had not meant to break the law.

Last month she was taken to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia to serve her prison sentence.

Biden said the United States would continue to work to free Paul Whelan, a former Marine, who the president said Russia was treating differently.

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“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up,” Biden said.

Biden thanked the United Arab Emirates for helping facilitate Griner’s return.

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