Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson plans to travel to Russia in the near future for talks aimed at reaching a deal to release detained WNBA star Brittney Griner, a source told ABC News. course of the proposed trip.
Richardson, who also served as US ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary in the Clinton administration, was instrumental in bringing about a prisoner swap in April that saw Russia free the former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed after nearly two and a half years in captivity.
He is expected to travel to Moscow in the coming weeks, according to the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Russia has repeatedly suggested that it wants to trade Griner for Russians held in US prisons. The new trip appears to be aimed at seeing if a deal similar to the one that freed Reed could be produced for Griner.
Richardson’s office did not confirm the potential visit, telling ABC News “we are unable to comment on this at this time.”
“What I can say (and this is public knowledge) is that the Whelan and Griner families have asked us to help release their loved ones,” said Mickey Bergman, executive director of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, to ABC News in an email.
Richardson currently represents the Griner family as well as the family of Paul Whelan, the other former Marine detained by Russia for three and a half years.
Griner, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist, has been detained in Russia since mid-February after she was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and accused by Russian authorities of having vape cartridges containing hash oil in his luggage.
This week, Griner told a Moscow court she would like to plead guilty to the charges, saying she unwittingly smuggled the vape cartridges into Russia, explaining she had no intention of leaving them in her bag.
The Biden administration has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained” and US officials believe Russia seized her, like Whelan and Reed, to use as bargaining chips with the United States.
Richardson’s possible trip comes amid speculation that the United States will make another prisoner exchange to free Griner. The Biden administration has said it is committed to negotiating with Russia for Griner’s release, but declined to say whether it is considering a trade.
Asked to comment on Richardson’s potential visit, the White House National Security Council told ABC it was in touch with Richardson and appreciated his efforts, but declined to comment further.
“NSC management is in contact with Bill Richardson. We appreciate his commitment to bringing Americans home and are pursuing the release of Brittney and Paul through government channels,” NSC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said she asked Richardson’s team for help and would support a trip if it happened.
“We have asked for help from the Richardson Center and I am encouraged that he can go,” Cherelle Griner said in a statement to ABC through Griner’s agent Lindsay Colas.
Richardson has long worked to free Americans wrongfully detained overseas. Through his nonprofit, the Richardson Center, he has helped return American citizens imprisoned in Iran and North Korea, among other places.
His team represented Trevor Reed’s family and spent months in shuttle diplomacy trying to hammer out a possible deal to release him.
Richardson even flew to Moscow on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a last-ditch effort to persuade Russia to make a swap.
Richardson does not represent the White House. In Reed’s case, he contacted the Russian government and the Biden administration separately to try to figure out what the two sides could agree to as a possible deal. He then relayed what he had heard to both sides.
Ultimately, the prisoner trade the White House did for Reed was the same one Richardson had advocated for: the release of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving time in prison in the United States for drug trafficking.
Richardson has since encouraged the Biden administration to consider making similar deals for Griner and Paul Whelan.
Following Griner’s court appearance on Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she was “going to do everything we can to get Brittney Griner home safely, and also to make sure that we bring Paul Whelan home as well.” Jean-Pierre said Griner’s guilty plea would have “no impact” on efforts to negotiate his release.
Russian media and state officials have repeatedly offered to trade Griner or Whelan for Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer, dubbed “the dealer of death” in the media and who is currently serving a 25-year sentence. years for narco-terrorism.
Trevor Reed and his family have called on the Biden administration to trade Bout if it frees Whelan and Griner.
Speaking to ABC News this week, Reed urged President Joe Biden to do more.
“I hope President Biden and his administration will do everything possible to get Brittney and Paul out of Russia, and that they will do it immediately,” he told ABC News. “Because every day that, you know, they’re sitting here waiting to make a decision is just another day that, you know, Paul and Brittney are hurting.”