Louisiana Republican Party objects to Brittney Griner prisoner swap

By: - January 8, 2023 6:00 am
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury celebrates with fans following Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on Oct. 13, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury celebrates with fans following Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on Oct. 13, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Louisiana Republican State Central Committee voted Saturday to condemn the Biden administration’s prisoner swap with Russia that led to the release of basketball star Brittney Griner

Members of the GOP committee attending their quarterly meeting in Lafayette supported a resolution condemning the Griner exchange through a voice vote. No members raised objections to the matter, once a reference to Griner being a “woke” gay woman was removed from the statement. 

The Republican Party did not provide a written copy of the resolution to a reporter who requested one. Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Louis Gurvich said resolutions approved during the meeting wouldn’t be available for at least two weeks. 

Griner, a WNBA superstar, was swapped for infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in December after being detained for 10 months. She was arrested at a Moscow airport in February, when Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in vape cartridges in her luggage. After pleading guilty over the summer, Griner started a nine-year sentence at a Russian penal colony.

 

Prominent Republicans, including U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, accused President Joe Biden of working to free Griner over other Americans detained overseas because of domestic political pressure. In addition to being gay, Griner is a Black woman and has endorsed left-leaning causes such as Black Lives Matter. 

The person who Russia received in exchange for Griner also makes people uncomfortable. Bout has been characterized by the U.S. government as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. 

On Saturday, Louisiana Republicans initially considered a version of their resolution that described Griner as “LGBT woke” until Grover Rees petitioned his colleagues to remove the language.

“There is no need to point out the sexual orientation [of Griner], which is irrelevant,” said Rees, a former U.S. ambassador to East Timor who lives in Lafayette. 

Suzanne White, who drafted the resolution, pushed back on Rees’ amendment. White said Griner was released because she is a “woke” LGBTQ woman. She also criticized the WNBA for being “all about” LGBTQ rights.

Other committee members said they were more concerned that Griner, a basketball player, had been freed before Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is now an executive for a security company. Whelan has been detained in Russia for four years, longer than Griner or Trevor Reed, another American freed from Russian detainment through a prisoner exchange in April

The Biden administration had hoped to swap Bout for both Griner and Whelan, but Russian authorities balked. Whelan has been accused of spying on Russia, a charge that experts told The New York Times is far more serious than those Griner and Reeves faced.

 

Late last month, Griner asked her own supporters to advocate for the release of Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony. On social media, she shared an address where people can send letters of support to Whelan, according to the Associated Press.

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

MORE FROM AUTHOR