Republicans have tried to make a scandal out of President Joe Biden agreeing to a prisoner swap last week that resulted in the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian captivity.
Let them tell it, they were outraged, with some claiming the deal to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (who was about halfway through serving his 25-year sentence) for Griner amounted to an impeachment-level offense. Many of them also claimed Biden’s inability to secure the release of another prisoner, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, amounted to a betrayal. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony for espionage charges both he and the U.S. deny.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was one of the Republican voices calling for Biden's impeachment. Her lapdog, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said "leaving Paul Whelan behind" was an “unconscionable” act by Biden.
Even Donald Trump, who publicly ignored Whelan’s pleas to negotiate his release during his presidency, had the nerve to call Biden’s deal an “unpatriotic embarrassment” last week.
Check out this post I wrote last week to learn why the GOP’s tantrum over Griner's release was dumb, ironic and transparently political. Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, underscored the absurdity of the GOP's response in an interview with The Atlantic published Sunday.
“It just really is distressing to me that people can’t do the math and realize that Trump was the president when Paul was arrested — and that he was the president for the next two years,” Elizabeth Whelan said.
“I don’t think President Trump ever even said Paul’s name” during his time in office, she added.
And what do you know? Like clockwork, Trump delivered one of his infamous online screeds and showed how baseless all this right-wing rage truly was.
In a post to his social media platform on Sunday, Trump claimed that, as president, he turned down Russia’s offer for a “one on one swap” that would have brought Whelan home in exchange for Bout.
Here’s the full statement:
I turned down a deal with Russia for a one on one swap of the so-called Merchant of Death for Paul Whelan. I wouldn’t have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone that has killed untold numbers of people with his arms deals. I would have gotten Paul out, however, just as I did with a record number of other hostages. The deal for Griner is crazy and bad. The taking wouldn’t have even happened during my Administration, but if it did, I would have gotten her out , fast!
As always, we can’t assume anything Trump says is true. But, either way, this is one hell of an admission. Trump isn’t just saying he declined to bring Whelan despite having a chance to do so. He’s openly saying he’d be willing to let 100 Americans languish in a Russian prison to keep Bout locked up, despite the fact he was scheduled for release in 2029.
For the record: The judge who sentenced Bout believes the time he served behind bars in the U.S. was sufficient. And Trump, who negotiated a deal with the Taliban that led to thousands of their fighters being freed from prison, is in no position to condemn anyone for allegedly dangerous prison releases.
But his unhinged rant unintentionally exposed purportedly outraged Republicans as frauds, and for that, I'm thankful.