US Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens met Griner on the plane and described to CNN’s State of the Union host Dana Bash what the meeting and flight home was like after Griner finally escaped the Russian penal colony she was sentenced to, Fox News reported.
Carstens claimed that when Griner boarded the plane after being exchanged for a dangerous weapons merchant on the tarmac of a Russian airport, he told her that she could “have her space” during the flight if she wanted. Instead, Griner was ebullient and said she wanted to meet and talk to every person on the plane that had their hand in getting her home.
Carstens added, “And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them, got their names. She was making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing.
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Griner was convicted of importing illegal drugs into Russia in August, several months after she was arrested in a Moscow airport for having cannabis oil in a vaping cartridge in her luggage. She was handed a 9-1/2-year sentence for her crime.
Griner tried to appeal her more than nine-year prison sentence, but the Russian court rejected her attempt to get out from under the penalty.
Carstens told CNN that Griner was excited to be on the plane.
“I was left with the impression that this is an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person, but above all, authentic,” Carstens added. “I hate the fact that I had to meet her in this manner, but I actually felt blessed having had a chance to get to know her.”
Some Americans may have a hard time understanding how Griner can be considered a “patriotic person,” considering the fact that she has refused to respect the country during the national anthem at her pro women’s basketball games.
In July 2020, for instance, Griner told the sports media, “I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season. I think we should take that much of a stand.”
Even if the league decided to play the anthem, Griner said she was going to stand with others against the country anyway.
“I’m going to protest regardless. I’m not going to be out there for the national anthem,” she said. “If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long. I’ll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.”
Biden’s deal to get Griner released has taken bipartisan criticism, though, for how lopsided of a deal it is. After all, Russia got a dangerous arms dealer who was a convicted terrorist, and the U.S. got in exchange a drug-using basketball player who has a history of dissing her own country.
Democrat U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D, NJ) was one critic who panned the trade, calling it “deeply disturbing.”
“The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griner’s 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 said Thursday. “We must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips, and we must try to do better at encouraging American citizens against traveling to places like Russia where they are primary targets for this type of unlawful detention.”