A Democrat U.S. senator slammed the prisoner exchange with Russia that led to the release of basketball star Brittney Griner.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., issued a statement Thursday after it was announced that Griner had been exchanged for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
"This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize we have a serious problem with hostage-taking of Americans," said Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griners of the world and people like Viktor Bout, the so-called 'Merchant of Death.' Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision."
Menendez added that "we must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips, and we must try do better at encouraging American citizens against traveling to places like Russia where they are primary targets for this type of unlawful detention."
Menendez's comments joined those by Republicans who criticized the exchange, which did not include Russian-jailed retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told Newsmax on Thursday that President Joe Biden "has upped the ante for what it takes to get someone out of Russia."
"Literally, what Biden just did was equated an international arms dealer, leading to the death of who knows how many people, Russian, that we released for someone that was being held in Russia for a small marijuana charge," Lankford said on "National Report."
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., also blasted details that cleared the way for her freedom.
"Joe Biden's prisoner swap with Vladimir Putin released Viktor Bout, the notorious 'Merchant of Death' who armed America's worst enemies," Cotton said in a statement Thursday. "And it left behind Paul Whelan, a Marine veteran who's languishing in a Russian jail cell on trumped-up charges.
"Americans welcomed the release of Brittney Griner, but it shouldn't have come at the cost of releasing one of the world's worst arms dealers and creating a dangerous precedent for our enemies: detain Americans and Democrats will agree to set your worst killers free."
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said that "Paul Whelan should have been part of this deal."
"He is a Marine who fought for our country, and he is a hero. He has spent four years unjustly held and badly mistreated in Russian prisons. The Biden administration cannot forget him now that Griner has been released," Risch said, the Examiner reported.
Griner had pleaded guilty to a drug charge following her Feb. 17 arrest after transporting cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia. She was then held at the Women's Penal Colony No. 2 in Mordovia, Russia.
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