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Biden says Brittney Griner in "good spirits," vows to keep working for Paul Whelan's release

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Special Report: Biden announces Brittney Griner is "on her way home" after prisoner swap 15:04

Washington — President Biden said WNBA star Brittney Griner is in "good spirits" and heading home after the U.S. secured her release Thursday in an extraordinary one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout.

"She's safe. She's on a plane," Mr. Biden said in brief remarks at the White House Thursday morning. "She's on her way home. After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along. This is a day we've worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release."

Mr. Biden spoke to Griner on the phone from the Oval Office in the morning, along with Griner's wife, Cherelle. 

The swap, first reported by CBS News, took place Thursday in the United Arab Emirates. Five former U.S. officials told CBS News the agreement had been reached as of a week ago.

Griner was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the discovery of cannabis-derived oil cartridges in her luggage.

Mr. Biden also said the U.S. would continue to work for the release of Paul Whelan, the retired Marine who has been in Russian custody since 2018. The president said the prisoner swap for Griner "was not a choice of which American to bring home."

"We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years," Mr. Biden said. "This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for illegitimate reasons, Russia has treated Paul's case differently than Brittney's. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we have not given up. We will never give up. We remain in close touch with Paul's family, the Whelan family, and my thoughts and prayers are with them today. They have to have such mixed emotions today." 

David Whelan, Paul's brother, said in a statement that the family was "so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home," but expressed frustration that Paul remained imprisoned. 

"Despite the possibility that there might be an exchange without Paul, our family is still devastated," David Whelan said. "I can't even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice. His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps for once towards his release. He'd been worrying about where he'd live when he got back to the US."

Speaking after Mr. Biden, Cherelle Griner thanked government officials for their work in bringing her wife home, saying her imprisonment had been "one of the darkest moments of my life." 

"Today my family is whole. But as you all are aware, there are so many other families that are not whole," she said, adding that she'll "remain committed" to bringing all Americans home, including Whelan. 

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