Days before she pleaded guilty last month, Griner penned a letter to Biden asking for his direct help with her case.
“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” the professional athlete wrote in a July 5 letter.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and … other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home,” Griner wrote.
After receiving the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle Griner. Biden also wrote a response to Griner that U.S. diplomats hand-delivered in Moscow.
Biden reassured her wife that he is working to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible, according to a White House readout of the call. He also said on the call that he is working to release Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.
Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of acting as a spy for the United States. At the time he was arrested, Whelan was visiting Russia to attend a wedding, according to his brother, David Whelan.
Last month, Biden signed an executive order that will expand the administration’s available tools to deter hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of U.S. nationals.
The executive order, known as “Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained United States Nationals Home,” will authorize the imposition of financial sanctions and visa bans on people involved in hostage-taking.
“This executive order reflects the administration’s commitment not just to the issues generally but to the families in particular, and it has been informed by the government’s regular engagements with them,” said a senior Biden administration official last month, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to share details about the new executive order.
In April, Russia agreed to release former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange with the United States.
Reed was accused of assaulting a Russian police officer and detained by authorities there in 2019. He was later sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Reed and his family have maintained his innocence, and the U.S. government described him as unjustly imprisoned.
For Reed’s release, Biden agreed to free Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.