White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that an “unfortunate mistake” prevented WNBA star Brittney Griner from calling her wife from a Russian jail over the weekend.
Cherelle Griner said the Phoenix Mercury center attempted to call 11 times on Saturday — the couple’s fourth wedding anniversary — but the US embassy in Moscow, which said it would connect the couple, instead let the phone ring without answering.
“This was an unfortunate mistake. And the Department of State is working to rectify this as quickly as possible,” Jean-Pierre said at her regular briefing.
“I understand there is a phone interview [that] has been scheduled. I’m not going to speak to when. That is up to Brittney Griner’s partner to decide — her wife to decide if they want to make that public.”
Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press that she hasn’t been able to speak with her wife in four months and that she wants to talk directly with President Biden about the case.
“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now. If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call,” Cherelle Griner said.
Jean-Pierre said that she had no information regarding a potential call between Biden and Cherelle Griner, but insisted that “any American that is held abroad is a priority for this president. We’ve spoken to that and we will do everything that we can to bring them home.”
Griner, 31, was arrested in February at Moscow’s international airport days before Russia invaded Ukraine. She allegedly was traveling with a weed vaporizer.
A Kremlin spokesman denied Monday that Griner is being used as a “hostage.” saying, “She violated Russian law, and now she’s being prosecuted.”
Griner is one of two Americans known to be held in Russia. The other, former Marine Paul Whelan, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on a charge of espionage.
Biden is an opponent of marijuana legalization and as a senator authored legislation that sent some pot dealers to prison for life without parole. Last year, the White House fired at least five staffers who admitted to past pot use.
Outgoing President Donald Trump last year commuted the sentences of seven people serving life terms for marijuana — including two men who were given life without parole under the three-strikes provision of the Biden-authored 1994 crime law.
Marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use under state law in most parts of the US, but American authorities still arrested more than 350,000 people in 2020 for pot offences, according to FBI data.