EXCLUSIVE: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee shared with theGrio that officials told members of the Congressional Black Caucus that Griner’s situation is “on their agenda.”
The national security team at the White House and the U.S. Department of State are actively working their diplomatic channels on the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner. The 31-year-old Houston, Texas native is currently being held in Russia where she has reportedly been charged for having possession of cannabis oil.
U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who represents Griner’s hometown, told theGrio that she is very upset about Griner’s detainment amid Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine. “I’m just plain angry. I’m just darn angry how all of a sudden she becomes someone whose items need to be specifically selected out. And with that in mind, I think it is crucial that this gets elevated,” said Jackson Lee.
Jen Psaki, President Joe Biden’s spokesperson, would not confirm if Griner is now being used as a political bargaining chip for Russian President Vladamir Putin clarifying, “we typically do not get into specifics because that is not constructive to bringing people home.” However, Psaki did say, “Our objective is always to bring American citizens home who are detained in foreign countries. So that will remain our focus.”
Psaki acknowledged her conversations publicly to the press about Griner’s current situation are limited due to privacy laws, stating, “I cannot speak with the specifics of it because we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver.”
Congresswoman Jackson Lee is working on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to bring Griner back home to the United States. Meanwhile, Jackson Lee was part of a Congressional Black Caucus meeting with President Biden Monday at the White House. Jackson Lee exclusively told theGrio, “we, as the Congressional Black Caucus thought it was important enough to raise the issue at our meeting.”
Sources close to the CBC meeting held in the Roosevelt Room said the president acknowledged that Griner “was on their agenda” and “the State Department was working on the issue.” Sources also contend Biden was firm that his team is having conversations on the matter.
Griner has been working in Russia for nearly a decade and is currently working off-season as a member of a local basketball team in the European country. American athletes tend to work in other countries during off-seasons because opportunities are limited in the United States. Griner is an international success, having won Olympic gold medals in 2016 and 2020. She’s also a seven-time WNBA all-star.
The Phoenix Mercury, Griner’s current USA team said in an Instagram post, “we are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at his time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”
Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, took to Instagram to publicly react to the basketball star’s detainment in Russia. “Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life,” wrote Cherelle. “I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely. Thank you!”
Congresswoman Jackson Lee cited human rights violations as it pertains to the conditions of the Russian jails where Griner is being held. “For those who have been wrongly held in Putin’s jails, his jails are a disgrace. They are inhumane. People have terrible health conditions. They’re not eating,” she noted.
“We’re not going to let him think that he has the upper hand as relates to the Americans he is holding…[Griner] cannot all of a sudden be a threat to Russia…she’s been there playing and providing enjoyment for almost a decade. That’s the point that we are making, and we will just not tolerate it,” said Jackson Lee.
Weeks ago, the State Department issued a travel advisory and warned Americans in Russia to leave the country in the wake of the then-potential war Russia was planning to wage in Ukraine. That war is now underway with one of the latest and most horrific missile strikes having targeted a Ukrainian maternity hospital.
On March 5, the State Department issued a travel advisory urging Americans not to travel to Russia “due to the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.”
The agency warned of “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, limited flights into and out of Russia, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law. U.S. citizens should depart Russia immediately.”
The travel advisory adds, “U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately. Limited commercial flight options are still available. Overland routes by car and bus are also still open. If you wish to depart Russia, you should make arrangements on your own as soon as possible.
The State Department said that any American that wishes to stay in Russia must “understand the U.S. Embassy has severe limitations on its ability to assist U.S. citizens, and conditions, including transportation options, may change suddenly.”
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