The Biden administration and congressional lawmakers are trying to get WNBA player, and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Brittney Griner released from detention in Russia where she’s being held on alleged drug charges. Right now, it looks like an uphill battle as hostility grows between the two superpowers over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN Monday (March 7) that “it’s going to be very difficult.”
"Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment. Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don't know," Garamendi explained, adding that it’s unclear if Russia’s “very strict LGBT rules and laws” would impact her case.
Griner, 31, was detained on Feb. 17 by Russian Federal Customs Service at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow after agents said they discovered hashish oil vape cartridges in her luggage, The New York Times reported.
She’s a championship-winning player with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury who plays for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg in the off season.
News of the detention prompted immediate calls for Griner’s release from her wife, Cherelle Griner, scores of fans and lawmakers. On Wednesday (March 9), U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) added his voice to the chorus, ESPN reported. Allred, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he is working with the State Department to help secure her release.
“I do think that it's really unusual that we've not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services,” Allred said.
"The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don't have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now. But she's been held for three weeks now, and that's extremely concerning."
Allred, a former NFL linebacker, played college football at Baylor University, where Griner played for Baylor's women's basketball team
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met Monday (March 7) with President Joe Biden.
"The best news we got today was that they (Biden administration) know about it and that she's on the agenda," CNN quoted U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner's hometown of Houston, Texas.
Two days earlier, Lee held a news conference where she called on Russian authorities to free Griner.
“Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia…and I will be demanding her release,” Lee stated.