Despite GOP criticism of the prisoner swap that freed Brittney Griner, Fiona Hill said Trump was 'not particularly interested' in freeing Paul Whelan
Fiona Hill said some US citizens imprisoned in Russia are caught in "political games."
Critics, including Trump, asked why Brittney Griner was freed while Paul Whelan remains jailed.
Hill said Trump wasn't "particularly interested in Paul [Whelan]'s case" while in office.
As critics including Donald Trump question why Brittney Griner was freed in a prisoner swap with Russia while Paul Whelan remains jailed, current and former National Security Council officials say such negotiations aren't so simple.
Griner was released from Russian detainment on Thursday after spending 10 months in custody, charged with the large-scale transportation of drugs after Russian officials said vape cartridges with hash oil were found in her luggage at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.
In exchange, the US released the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, often referred to by the nickname "Merchant of Death."
While Whelan's release has been the topic of ongoing negotiations between the Biden administration and Russian officials, he was not included in the prisoner swap. The former US Marine has been jailed in Russia since 2018 after being convicted on espionage charges he vehemently denies.
The Biden administration has promised Whelan "we're coming to get you" and urged him to "keep the faith" after Whelan expressed he was "disappointed" that not enough had been done to secure his freedom.
"The America hating basketball player for the 'Merchant of Death,' especially when the former Marine is not even included, is a one-sided disaster, and a BIG WIN FOR RUSSIA," Trump posted on Truth Social, calling the deal a "stupid and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA."
Other Republicans have also criticized the deal, with Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida calling the swap "shameful" and questioning why a "celebrity" is being released over a veteran, and Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan adding "President Biden has left Paul Whelan behind."
"SO @POTUS just traded an enemy who smuggles guns and helps shoot Americans for an American who smuggles drugs and shoots basketballs, all while a former US Marine, Paul Whelan, rots in a Russian prison," tweeted Rep. Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania. "Let that sink in."
However, National Security Council Communications Chief John Kirby told "Fox News Sunday" that trading Whelan was "never a choice posed by the Russians."
"They treat Paul differently because of these sham espionage charges," Kirby said. "He is put in this special category by the Russians."
In an appearance on Face the Nation, Fiona Hill, who served as president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council from 2017 to 2019, said the prospect of Whelan's release was "raised many times by the Russians," during her time working for the Trump administration, but the deal never went through.
"I also have to say here that President Trump wasn't especially interested in engaging in that swap for Paul Whelan," Hill said. "He was not particularly interested in Paul's case in the way that one would have thought he would be."
Trump on Sunday posted to Truth Social that he had "turned down" a prisoner swap that would have brought Whelan home in exchange for Bout, saying he would have "gotten Paul out" but "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."
Hill added that the negotiations surrounding Whelan, who she said was "set up" on espionage charges, were handled differently than "very minor infractions" as in the case of Griner and former Marine Trevor Reed, who was released in April in a swap for convicted drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko.
However, she added, Whelan, Griner, and Reed were all caught up in what she called "political games" while doing things that "seemed completely ordinary."
"And we have to be mindful of the fact that when governments do this, they're doing it for trading purposes, but they're also doing it to mess about in our politics," Hill said. "And we're falling every single time for this — the more that we fight with each other, the more that we play into their hands. And we also risk other Americans being taken, because it's a way of influencing our domestic politics."
Representatives for Hill and Trump did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.
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