(NewsNation) — Much of the focus on WNBA star Brittney Griner’s freedom has come with criticism that former Marine Paul Whelan was left behind and questions of whether the exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was a fair trade.
Now, it’s come to light that during his time in office, former President Donald Trump was offered a deal to trade Whelan for Bout. It’s a deal Trump says he refused, adding on Truth Social that he wouldn’t have made the deal for 100 people in exchange for Bout.
“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,” Trump posted in part.
Bout is a notorious arms dealer with a history of trafficking dangerous weapons often used to target Americans.
Former U.S. national security advisor John Bolton first publicly disclosed that Trump had rejected a Whelan-Bout deal. It has also been confirmed by both Trump and Steve Zissou, Bout’s lawyer.
Zissou said there was a firm offer by the Russians to trade Whelan, but it was never confirmed to him by the U.S. side under Trump’s administration.
“We don’t know why. We’re learning now that the Whelan family was never even advised of it,” Zissou told NewsNation host Dan Abrams on Thursday.
Zissou says that after the administration changed from Trump over to Biden, he still hoped the obvious choice for a trade would be Bout for Wayland. But he insists that the value of the trade depreciated as the time left of Bout’s sentence withered away.
At the time of his release in exchange for Griner, Bout had already served 14 years of his 25-year sentence.
“Frankly, by abandoning Whelan during the Trump administration, they in effect, dumbed down his value. You know, by the time the deal was made last week, Viktor had served 70% of his sentence. So every day that went by, he was less valuable, and the Russians are saying, ‘Sorry he’s going to be home in five or six years, you know, we’ll give you Griner and that’s it,’” Zissou said.
According to Biden administration officials, it was not an option to trade Bout for both Griner and Whelan’s freedom.
“This is not a new tactic for Mr. Putin, this idea of wrongfully detaining Americans to try to get somebody else back or to get some other concession. This is part of Mr. Putin’s playbook. So we made this calculation. It was a tough decision. But it was a better decision than doing nothing because it was either get Brittany out using Mr. Bout or get nobody out,” John Kirby, U.S. national security spokesperson, told Fox News.
Zissou maintains that Biden did what he had to do in the situation: “Make the only deal that he had available to him, and I think Griner’s family thanks God he did.”