Brittney Griner is doing well while recovering after being freed from a Russian prison on Thursday and returning to the United States the following day, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
"She's [in] San Antonio at the Brooke Army Medical Center getting appropriate mental health care as well as physical health care, just to make sure that she's ready for her reintegration back into American society," Kirby said. "They'll work that out with the doctors and the family as to how much longer she'll need to be there. But our initial reports are she's in very good spirits and in good health."
In exchange for Griner's freedom, the U.S. released notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence for a conspiracy conviction.
When asked about critics who say the Biden administration gave up too much to get Griner back and that the deal will encourage future hostage-taking by other nations to win concessions from the U.S., Kirby said, "Nobody's doing backflips over there about the fact that Mr. Bout is a free man six years earlier than he would have been. But we're going to protect our national security. And if Mr. Bout decides to go back to his previous line of work, then we're going to do what we need to do to hold him accountable."
Critics also said that for releasing such a notorious figure, the U.S. should have also been able to secure the release of Marine veteran Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian captivity for nearly four years on espionage charges that the White House says are false.
But the White House National Security Council spokesman said it was impossible to reach an agreement that would have also included Whelan's release, telling ABC that "they were treating Paul very separately, very distinctly because of these sham espionage charges they levied against him. And then it kind of come together last week in the end game with just a Bout-for-Griner deal," emphasizing that "it really occurred to us that there was just no chance" of also freeing Whelan.
Kirby said he understands the criticism from the deal's detractors, but "they weren't in the room. They weren't on the phone. They weren't watching the incredible effort and determination ... to try to get both Paul and Brittney out together.
"In a negotiation, you do what you can; you do as much as you can. You push and you push and you push, and we did. And this deal we got last week, that was the deal that was possible."
Kirby said, "We are still negotiating for Paul Whelan's release," adding, "We have a better sense of the context here, where the Russians' expectations are, and we're just going to keep working on it."
The White House National Security Council spokesman also conceded that there is some merit to the "the argument about encouraging hostage taking," but he said the Biden administration has tried to take steps to deter foreign governments, through sanctions and visa restrictions, who may use Americans as political prisoners.
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