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Brittney Griner speaks out for the first time since she her release from a Russian penal colony: WNBA star thanks Joe Biden and says she knows the White House is ‘committed’ to bringing back ex-Marine Paul Whelan

Brittney Griner has released her first statement since being released from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner swap for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The WNBA star thanked the Biden Administration, and said she knows the White House is ‘committed’ to bringing home former US Marine Paul Whelan, who remains incarcerated in Russia.

‘It feels so good to be home!’ Griner wrote on Instagram. ‘The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.’

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia, listens to his lawyers while standing inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on January 22, 2019. Griner said she is 'confident' that the White House can bring him home too

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia, listens to his lawyers while standing inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on January 22, 2019. Griner said she is ‘confident’ that the White House can bring him home too

‘President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.’

Griner, who had played professionally in Russia since 2014, was returning to the country in February when she was stopped at the Moscow airport with what authorities claimed to be vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. Ultimately Griner was convicted in August and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. A subsequent appeal was denied in October.

The Biden administration negotiated with the Kremlin for months to get Griner and Whelan back from Russia, but only managed to get the WNBA star in exchange for Bout.

Last week, Griner and Bout crossed paths on a tarmac in the United Arab Emirates to complete the trade.

The deal has drawn criticism from Republicans, who were upset that the White House failed to get Whelan in the deal as well. In response to attacks from the right, White House officials acknowledged prisoner swaps are costly, adding that they felt compelled to bring Griner home while they had the chance.

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‘As I transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family, I want to acknowledge and thank the entire PISA staff and medical team at the San Antonio Fort Hood Base. I appreciate the time and care to make sure I was okay and equipped with the tools for this new journey. I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon.’

Griner also thanked a number of individuals, including her wife, Cherelle, the White House, and her agents at Wasserman. 

‘I am grateful to each person who advocated for me, especially my wife, Cherelle Griner, my family, [my agents] Lindsay Kagawa Colas and Casey Wasserman and my whole team at Wasserman, [Phoenix Mercury president] Vince Kozar and the Phoenix Mercury, the players of the WNBA, and my entire WNBA family, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, my Russian legal team Maria Blagovolina and Alex Boykov, the leaders, activists, and grassroots organizations, Gov. Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, Roger Carstens and the SPEHA team, and of course, a special thank you to President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken and the entire Biden-Harris Administration. 

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