On Wednesday, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, the wife of the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner, according to statement released by the White House. Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia on drug charges since February.
During the call, Biden read a draft of a letter he planned to send to Brittney Griner.
“The president offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home,” the statement read.
Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, accused by the Russian authorities of having a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. Her trial began on Friday. On Monday, Brittney Griner sent a letter to Biden pleading for his help.
The U.S. government has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained” and is working to secure her release regardless of the outcome of the trial.
Wednesday’s statement from the White House described Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances.”
It also said Biden had instructed his national security team to keep “regular contact” with Cherelle Griner and Brittney Griner’s family. Cherelle Griner has publicly expressed frustration with Biden and his administration’s efforts to secure her wife’s release.
On Tuesday, Cherelle Griner appeared on “CBS Mornings” and spoke about her disappointment that Brittney Griner’s family had not received a reply to Brittney Griner’s letter from the president.
“I will not be quiet anymore,” Cherelle Griner said. “My wife is struggling and we have to help her.”
The women have been able to communicate with each other only through letters. In June, Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press that a scheduled call with Brittney Griner never got through to her because of a staffing issue at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. She said she had not spoken to her wife since the day Brittney Griner was detained.
Experts said Brittney Griner’s trial was likely to end in a conviction. She faces up to 10 years in a penal colony if she is convicted.
“There’s a bias mainly because the Russian judicial system says they really should not go to trial unless the defendant is going to be convicted,” said William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Kennan Institute and an expert on Russian law. “There’s no real idea or expectation that the defendant could be innocent. There’s no presumption of innocence, really.”