James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: President Biden keeps his promises. And today he fulfilled a deeply important promise to bring Brittney Griner home to a family that loves her, a team that misses her, and a country that has marveled at her strength and courage.
Brittney’s safe return home is the product of months and months of painstaking negotiations that were the culmination of extraordinary efforts across the U.S. government. Officials from the White House, the State Department, and across the administration worked tirelessly and relentlessly to see this moment through.
As the Secretary of State said publicly in July, we have been engaging in intense negotiations with Russia, pursuing many different avenues over the course of the last six months to secure Brittney’s release. And we know Brittney fought tirelessly too.
Throughout her ordeal, we saw Brittney — a two-time Olympic Gold medalist for Team USA — demonstrate strength, courage, and dignity. As the President said this morning, she represents the best of America.
I had the opportunity to speak to Cherelle Griner a couple of hours ago, who is looking forward to seeing Brittney as soon as she returns home later today.
Cherelle, who herself has handled Brittney’s detention with incredible strength, asked me to communicate once again her sincere gratitude to everyone in the administration and in their broader — and in their own broader support network, who made this day possible. She also wanted to reinforce the commitment she and Brittney have made to stand up and speak out for other Americans wrongfully detained abroad.
While we’re celebrating Brittney’s return home today, we have also continued to be in touch with the Whelan family for whom this news brings mixed emotions.
In recent weeks, it became clear that while Russians were willing to reach an agreement to secure Brittney’s release, they continue to treat Paul Whelan differently, given the nature of the totali- — totally illegitimate charges they have levied against Paul. Unfortunately, the choice became to either bring Brittney home or no one.
As the President said this morning, he will — he will never stop working to secure Paul’s release and return home. And he will not give up.
On a personal note, Brittney is more than an athlete, more than an Olympi- — Olympian. She is an important role model and inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color. She should never have been detained by Russia. And we are — I am — deeply proud of the work that the President has done, this administration has done to get her home.
With that, Seung Min.
Q So, a couple of questions on Brittney Griner. In his post-Election Day press conference, the President said, quote, “My hope is that now that the election is over, that Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be more willing to talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange.” So can you discuss how precisely the end of — how the talks changed after the midterms? Did Russia seem more — did their posture change? Were they kind of cognizant that the campaign season was over?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: If you could bear with me for a second, I’m going to give you all a timeline that will answer probably many of your questions about what happened and when things changed.
So as you all know, over the past year, we have been pursuing many different avenues, as I just stated at the top, to secure Brittney’s release, as — and I mentioned what the Secretary said in July. But since that time, U.S. officials continued to press Russia publicly and privately to engage in good-faith negotiations pursuing a variety of different options.
In recent weeks, though, it became clear that while the Russians were willing to reach an agreement to secure Brittney’s release, they continue to treat Paul differently, as I just stated, with their totally illegitimate charge that they levied against Paul.
In this pa- — in this last week, the President approved moving forward with releasing Viktor Bout in exchange for bringing home Brittney Griner.
Over the last 48 hours, Brittney was moved from the penal colony where she was held in Russia, to Moscow, and then flown to the UAE.
Bout conditional grant of clemency was not complete — completed until today, when U.S. officials in the UAE verified Brittney was there too and ready to return to the U.S.
Yesterday, U.S. officials met with Paul Whelan’s family to inform them of the news. And I expect, as the President said earlier today, this President will speak with them later or when they are ready to have that conversation, understanding — and the President said this as well — how difficult of a moment this is for the Whelan family.
And this morning, just to clear up some of the questions that you all have had, Cherelle had been invited to the White House for a meeting with the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan.
When she arrived, she was welcomed into the Oval Office by President Biden, who personally delivered the news that Brittney would be returning home today.
The President was joined in the Oval Office by Vice President Harris, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and also Secretary of State Blinken.
Once Brittney lands in the United States, she will be offered appropriate care and support from the U.S. government, including medical screenings as well.
Look, I’m not going to get into specifics as to your question about what was occurring to change the minds of Russia as it relates to the midterms or af- — doing this after the midterms. I’m not in the business of speculating how Mr. Putin thinks.
What we want to make sure that is very clear: The President made a promise, and he kept his promise — and not just to Brittney Griner; he’s keeping his promise — he’s going to do everything — his team is going to do everything that they can to secure Paul’s return as well, and other Americans that are — that are wrongfully detained abroad.
And so we have seen this happen — right? — just across the President’s administration. And we’ve brought home — the President has been able to secure about a dozen wrongfully detained or hostage individuals — Americans — bringing them home. We know — we saw the situation with Trevor Reed just this past April.
So this is a commitment that the President has, that his administration has, and we will continue.
Q And can you discuss specifically what Russia wanted beyond Victor Bout and what the — that the U.S. would not do? And what is it that the U.S. was willing to offer in addition to Viktor Bout?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So here’s the thing: The Russians were not willing to negotiate in good faith for the release of Paul Whelan at this time. And in order to increase the chances for success, we’re not going to certainly discuss more about the negotiations for his release publicly. What — we are committed to securing Paul’s release, but we’re just not going to get into specifics. But like I said, they were not operating in good faith.
Q And one more question. I mean, obviously we’re all very happy to hear the news that she’s coming home. But I’m wondering if the administration’s concern about whether there’s any precedent set here about what the U.S. government is willing to trade in exchange to release Americans imprisoned abroad.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, this was not a decision that the President made lightly, but he believed it was the right thing to do to secure Brittney’s release.
And — and so, you know, this is a commitment that he had, a promise that he made. And where we were left with is either we bring Brittney home or no one at all. And so the — you know, had a — one of my colleagues in the National Security Council said today he believed that there was a moral obligation here to get her home. Does this not mean that this President will stop with Brittney? He’s going to continue to make sure that we secure Paul Whelan’s return, as well, and as well as other Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad.
Q Thanks, Karine. Was there a risk assessment to determine how dangerous Bout may be now that he’s been released back into the world? And what is the result, if there was one? How should people be thinking about the fact that this man is free?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, again, this was not a decision that the President made lightly. I just want to be very clear on that. We will always stay vigilant about our national security. That’s something that the promise — the President will always do, and we will act swiftly to protect it. That — that was true yesterday. That is true today. And that will be true after Mr. Bout’s release.
So that is a commitment that the President has to the American people. But again, he believed this was the right thing to do in bringing Brittney home.
Q But in making that decision, surely, he heard from officials, the intelligence community, about how dangerous Bout is or is not. So I’m just asking —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I hear the question.
Q — the degree of the assessment.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear your question. I’m not going to get into specifics about what the President was told by the intelligence community. That is not something that we do from here, as you know, on any specifics.
What I can say is that the President will continue to be vigilant about our national security, and — and he will remain — we will remain to act swiftly to protect it. Again, this is not a decision that he made lightly.
Q And with regard to Whelan, David Whelan said in his statement that — I’m guessing you’ve seen by now — that Paul “worked so hard to survive” for nearly four years. And he questioned, “How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice?” Essentially painting a pretty hopeless picture for his brother. So are there any concerns that Paul Whelan will hurt himself? And are there any measures that the U.S. can take to ensure his wellbeing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, all very good questions. And the President said this morning he understands how difficult a moment this is for the Whelan family. It is not — certainly not lost on us. And as we have said, we’ve been speaking with the Whelan family, including today, and we’re not going to certainly betray any of that confidential conversation. You clearly have heard from the family directly in the statement.
But, look, what we are going to continue to do is we are going to continue to work to secure Paul’s — Paul’s return, Paul’s release. You know, I think you can understand why we won’t go into details.
But, of course — of course, we’re always concerned about the safety — the safety and the health of any American that is being held — wrongfully detained and held hostage. And I’m not going to get into specifics on any, you know, future conversations that we might have with Paul and how that’s going to — our interaction with him is going to look like.
One thing that I can say is our consular office — officers in Moscow were able to make contact with Paul on December 2nd. And as we — as we know from that time, he was — he was feeling well. He was in good health.
Q And just one more. And just to clarify, on December 2nd, he wasn’t aware that this was happening? It wasn’t until today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, he was — we have made Paul Whelan aware of — of this — of the exchange that happened today. He’s aware of it.
Q Okay. And one more on Brittney Griner. I understand how the deal went down and what the Russians were willing to give. But how do you dispel the public perception that if you are a celebrity or a professional athlete, you get preferential treatment in a situation like this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I want to be very clear here. And I think we — you know, we tried to lay this out in a clear way as well — the President did and my colleagues, as you’ve heard from them, from the NSC: This was not a choice for us on — of which American to bring home. That was not the choice. It was a choice between bringing home one American or bringing home none. And we brought one home today, and that is important to note. And just like we were able to bring home Trevor Reed back in April.
And through every step of this process, we have sought to bring Paul Whelan home. And that will not change. That will continue to be our commitment.
Again, regrettably, due to nature of the total — totally illegitimate charges they levied against Paul, the Russians are treating this situation differently than Brittney — Brittney’s situation, and we have been unable to secure his release.
We made every possible offer available to us to secure Paul’s release, but there was no way to bring Paul home right now. We would have preferred, of course — of course, we’d have preferred to see them both released. That’s what we’ve been calling on. That’s what you’ve been hearing from me and the President these past — this past year. But we did not want to lose the opportunity before us to secure the release of one of them. And so that was the choice: one or none, and not “which one.” It was either none or one.
And so, our efforts to bring Paul home will continue. It will not stop. And, you know, the U.S. government continues to encourage the Russian government through every — every contact with them, through every channels to secure his release. And we want them to do it in good faith.
Q I want to get your reaction to Paul Whelan’s own words in response to this. He told one of our colleagues that he doesn’t understand why he’s still sitting there, that he’s greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure his release. So can you respond directly to him? Can you assure him that you are, in fact, now doing everything you can?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I would refer — refer you to the words of the President himself, right? This is something that it we are committed to doing.
And again, I’ll repeat this because the President said this, and this is just repeating the President as well: is, like, he understands how difficult a time this is for the family — Paul’s family. He understands that. There are mixed emotions today for them.
They also said that they were proud to see, you know, Brittney come home today. And the President is going to do everything that he can, as we have seen him do many times across this — his — across the time, his tenure in the administration, to bring Paul home. And so, this is a commitment that the President is giving to the family and to Americans.
Q And does the President have any plans to speak with Whelan’s family or to try and speak with Paul Whelan himself?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as he said himself, he’s looking to — he’s looking forward to speaking to the Whelan family today or when they are ready to have that conversation. He is open and ready to communicate with them.
Q And does the President — should we have any plans or any expectation for him to meet with Brittney Griner?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to preview at this time. Our — our efforts right now, our focus is to get her home safely and — and to get her back to her family, to her team, to her loved ones, and give her all the necessary tools that she will need to reengage, to come back to the U.S. in her — in the way that she chooses, right?
Q Thank you, Karine. A quick question on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in securing Griner’s release. How do you view the Crown Prince’s involvement here? Do you view this as an act of good faith? And how do you think this will help them as the U.S. reevaluates its alliance with Saudi?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as I’ve said before, this negotiation was between the U.S. government and Russia, and that’s how we were able to secure Brittney’s — Brittney’s release. And I won’t have — I don’t have anything further to share on that.
Q So there was — there were U.S. officials on the background call this morning thanking the Emiratis, for example, but there was no explicit mention of MBS and the role he played. I mean, is the administration still extending their gratitude or a thank you to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, the only countries that negotiated this deal were the United States and Russia, and there was no mediation involved. We are grateful for the UAE — as the President mentioned, as I am mentioning now — for facilitating the use of their territory for the exchange to take place.
We are also grateful to other countries, including Saudi Arabia, that released [sic] the issue of our wrongfully detained Americans with Russian government — that raised that issue.
But, again, I don’t have anything more to say. But when it comes to her release, it was between the U.S. government and Russia.
Q And a quick one on the Whelan family saying that the United States needs to be more aggressive in arresting Russian criminals so there is more leverage during negotiations. One of the options is for the U.S. to arrest more Russians that, you know, the government is sanctioning already. Is that sort of a feasible path being floated? Is that — you know, how would you respond to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything more to share or anything to add or preview on your question.
Look, as you know, the President recently put forward — the Biden administration expanded their toolkit for the U.S. government can use to make sure that, as we think about hostages that are wrongfully detained, Americans that are being held, to deal with that issue, including the ability to impose serious costs and consequences, such as sanctions and visa bans on governments and non-state actors who are involved in hostage taking and wrongfully — and wrongfully detentions.
So, the State Department has also introduced a new risk indicator to their travel advisories to inform U.S. citizens about the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government in six countries that have regularly engaged in this practice.
So, clearly, we have expanded our toolkit. We did that most recently. And — and so that is showing how important this issue of Americans being wrongfully detained abroad and held hostage is important to the President and making sure that we bring them home, but also stop — stop those actions that we’re seeing from those countries.
Q Karine, just back to what Paul Whelan told my colleague earlier. He said, “I don’t understand why I am still sitting here.” When the senior officials spoke with Mr. Whelan earlier today, what was the explanation that was given to him on why he is still in a Russian penal colony?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I laid it out. He’s — Paul Whelan is being treated differently and — because of a totally illegitimate charges that have been levied against him by the Russians. And, you know, the Russians were not willing to negotiate in good faith for the release of — of Paul Whelan at this time. And that is the reality. That is what we’ve been sharing with all of you. But the President, again, is committed — committed to securing Paul’s return.
I’m not going to get into details of negotiations of what that will look like, just because, as you could imagine — you all understand — because of security reasons here. But, again, this is — this is something that we have worked for, worked on for the past several months — getting them both home. That is something that the President wanted to do. But this is what the Russians are doing. And so now we’re going to continue to have those conversations and finding a way to bring him home.
Q And can you clarify: When the Saudis say that the Crown Prince, MBS, was involved in mediation efforts to secure Griner’s release, is that true?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I don’t have anything else to share beyond of what I’ve said. I’ll refer you — again, let them speak for themselves. But I’m — I’m not going to comment beyond what I just laid out of — of what we saw — who we’re thankful to and what we saw the — the involvement.
Again — but it was — the deal was negotiated. The only countries that actually negotiated this deal was the United States and Russia.
Q I guess, do you make anything of the fact that they are saying that MBS was involved?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not — I’m just not going to say beyond — more be- — outside of what I’ve just laid out.
Q Okay. Just a final one. Just revisiting Seung Min’s question on just the precedent that this might possibly set, I guess, what would the President’s message be to any foreign actor or rogue country that has watched all of this unfold and might be thinking, “Okay, so this was possible in this situation, so this is something that we might be able to pull off too”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, you know, Russia and — sadly, Russia and other countries have already been willing to wrongfully detain U.S. citizens. This is something that has been occurring for some time, as you know. So we have been focused on how we can bring them home, and we make no apologies for that. And that’s what you have seen us do today, and that’s what you’ve seen us do with Trevor Reed and others.
And so, look, we’re going to continue to put — to put our efforts forward. We have, again, expanded our toolkit to make sure we do everything that we can to bring them home. But this is something that has been happening for some time now.
Q But is there a concern of this kind of precedent being set?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I can say — again, this is — this is something that we have seen not just Russia and other countries continue to do. This is something that they’ve been willing to do, which is wrongfully detained U.S. Americans.
We are going to do everything that we can to bring them home. We’re not going to apologize about it. We are going to keep our commitment to bring American citizens — again, who are being wrongfully detained, who are being held hostage — safe — back home safely to their families, where they should be.
Q Thanks. Does the White House have any indication that this negotiation is foundational and could lead to greater communication with Russia up to and including about Ukraine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, these — this — this release culminated after an extraordinary amount of hard work by many people just across the U.S. government, as I just laid out early on, and our national security team, obviously. It was about securing Brittney’s — Brittney’s release, pure and simple. That’s what this — this is — was about. That’s what this — this particular action was about.
As we stated numerous — on numerous occasion, the U.S. government engaged with Russian government through every available channel to bring Griner and Paul Whelan home.
As it relates to — if you’re asking me about what we’re seeing in Ukraine, the invasion in Ukraine by Russia, it’s not going to change our commitment to the Ukrainian people to make sure that they are able to fight against the — their aggressive — the aggression that they are dealing with, with Russia, to fight for their freedom, to fight for their democracy. That does not change.
But this — I would look at this particular issue specifically to what we were trying to do: bringing home and — Americans back home safely.
Q And one more. The President indicated that he had talked to Brittney Griner. Can you give us any more details about — about that conversation, how long it was, what was talked about? And has he talked to her again, since this morning?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a new call, a conversation to read out to you at this time. We have — basically has shared that, this morning, in the Oval Office, as I kind of gave a little bit of a timeline moments ago, when the President invited Cherelle Griner into the Oval Office to let her know what was occurring today — that Brittney was coming home — they called — I think there’s a photo out there that we tweeted — they called Brittney together, along with the Vice President and Secretary Blinken. And — and we have shared with all of you that she was in good spirits.
I don’t have anything further to share. But, yes, there was a conversation — I think we shared that earlier this morning — that he had with Brittney Griner when she was on her way here, on the plane, when she was able to have communications to have that conversation with her wife, the President, the Vice President, and Secretary Blinken.
Q Thanks. Just building on Cleve’s first question, it was a channel that works — a channel of communication with the Russian government that was successful in reaching this agreement. Is the admini- — does the administration not think that that is an opportunity to make progress in other areas, whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s arms? There are so many issues. Is that not an opportunity there though?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, totally understand the question about what else can we po- — what other avenues can we potentially go through after this — after this — after securing Brittney’s coming — return home.
But we just want to be — again, this was — we want to be really clear: This was about securing Brittney’s release home, yes. But it was about this particular issue, pure and simple. That’s what this was about.
I don’t want to get ahead of any potential conversation about Ukraine. Don’t want to get ahead of any conversation about arms deal. I know there’s a new treaty out there. I know you all have questions about that. But this was about what the President’s commitment is and has been, what the administration’s work has been, which is bringing home American citizens who are wrongfully detained. And that has been our focus with Brittney this past year.
Q On another one: You know — obviously we’re talking about Griner. You also talk about efforts to reach to Paul Whelan’s family, as well as Paul Whelan himself. I just wanted to ask: Have there been any similar efforts regarding American Marc Fogel, who is also in Russia, also arrested on marijuana charges? How is his case different? Or how does the — why is the actions for Marc Fogel different than these?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation. Any specifics on Marc Fogel or any others, I would — I would refer you to the State Department for additional information on those specific cases.
There are — every case is different. Every case — there are different ways that I can talk about them, so I don’t want to get ahead of that. So I would refer you to the State Department.
Q But you do see a difference between Griner’s case and Fogel’s case?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that sometimes we’re not able to talk about that particular individual, and so I don’t want to get ahead of that. There are reasons for that — for their own security, for their own privacy. So I would refer you to the State Department.
Go ahead, Steven.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President said he expected that Brittney Griner will be back in the U.S. in about 24 hours. Is it your expectation that she’ll return home to Texas? Or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: For privacy reasons and security reasons, I’m not going to get ahead of or share any information on where — where she will be or where she will be landing.
What I can say is she will be reunited with her family. I don’t want to get, again, into details about timing or location, just to respect her family’s wishes and for privacy, given — giving them the space and time that is needed. At this moment, we would ask — you know, we ask all of you to respect their privacy as well.
And — but I’ll share this: Typically upon arrival, people are offered a wide range of additional support, including a full medical checkup and a mental checkup, and — and anything that they potentially can need to move forward.
Q I want to ask you — as you know, there’s some criticism of the release of Victor Bout. And I know you said the President doesn’t take it lightly; he weighed it very carefully. But we are talking about a man who, when he was sentenced to 25 years, Preet Bharara — who at the time was the top federal prosecutor in New York — said that this was someone who had conspired to sell AK-47s that he knew would have been used to kill Americans — American drug agents. Law enforcement officials may not be happy with his release. What’s the President’s message to them and to others who say, essentially, that this was a bad deal, that this is a terrible man who has not fully paid his debt?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, negotiations for release of wrongful detainees are often very difficult — that’s just a reality — in part because of the price that must be paid to bring Americans home to their loved ones and in part because of immediate results can feel unfair or arbitrary — right? — to your point.
Viktor Bout, who served 12 years in U.S. prison facilities after being convicted with due process, who was scheduled for release in 2029, has been allowed to return to Russia as part of this arrangement, as you all know.
While, you know — look, we celebrate Brittney’s homecoming, we remain committed to seeing Paul Whelan’s like- — likewise release.
Through every step of this process, we sought to bring Paul Whelan home as well, and we did so in good faith with Russians and proposing different options. And I’ll say this again: You know, we’ll not stop to do that.
But here — here it is — you know, and I said — my colleagues said this earlier today: The President felt a moral obligation to bring Brittney home. There was an opportunity to do that. It was either Brittney or no one at all.
And — and, you know, we’re not going to apologize for that. And, again, this is what we were able to do to get her home. And we are not going to stop, we will — not going to stop to bring Paul Whelan home as well. We’re going to continue to do the work — and also other Americans who have been held — wrongfully detained.
Q Thanks, Karine. One, just housekeeping off the top. Has Brittney Griner boarded the plane back to the U.S.?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, she’s on her way. She’s on her way home.
Q Okay. So, she’s on the plane now from the UAE?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. She’s on the plane back. Yes.
Q Can you help us understand, were there any other concessions that were offered as a part of this deal? Did the U.S. give anything or get anything that has not been disclosed —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No.
Q — as part of this deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No.
Q And just to try again on a question that you’ve gotten: How does this deal not send a message to Russia and to other governments that, if they wrongfully detain American citizens, that they will have some of their most dangerous criminals — in this case, the “Merchant of Death” — released?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’ve answered this question multiple times. And I’ve said this, and you’ve all reported this, and you have seen this as well: Russia and other countries have already been willing to wrongfully detain U.S. citizens.
Q But does this encourage them to continue doing it — to do it even more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I cannot speak for other countries. That is not something that I am able to do from here.
What I can tell you is the promise that this President has made, right? We’re not going to — certainly not going to talk about diplomatic conversations that may be occurring, right? I’m not going to do that. But we want — we want American people to know that their safety and security is among our highest priorities. And we continue to work aggressively, using every available means to bring home all U.S. nationals wrongfully detained or being held captive here.
This is a promise that the President has made and we are not going to apologize for it.
Q And on the statement that was put out that the governments of the UAE and Saudi Arabia were engaged in mediating this deal, some have drawn a link between the fact that the lawsuit was dropped just days ago against MBS for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. What do you say to those who see a link in this broader deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, this is a — this is — this negotiation was in the works for months, as I just laid out. I just went through the timeline. Right? We talked about Secretary Blinken being very public in July. We have been committed throughout this year to bring home Brittney and Paul, and we’ve laid out the timeline of how this has all worked out.
And this has been through painstakingly extraordinary conversations that have been had and that has been the focus. It’s been specifically on those negotiations, channels that have been, clearly, open — right? — that were private, that were public. And I’m not just — I’m just not going to get into details on negotiations and what was worked through.
Q One more, quickly. Leader McCarthy has called this, quote, a “gift to Vladimir Putin,” saying it “endangers American lives.” Your message to McCarthy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, sadly, Russia and other countries have already been willing to wrongfully detain U.S. citizens. This is — this is something that they have been willing to do. And what —
Q But what do you say to his contention, “This is a gift to Vladimir Putin”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What we have said — and basically, I’m just going to repeat what I have been saying: The President is committed and has been very clear — and we have seen his work, right? This is — we have brought home people who’ve been held hostage and wrongfully detained over the course of his administration and across different countries, as you all know, as you all have reported on this.
He is committed to making sure or doing everything that he can to bring home Americans who are being wrongfully detained abroad. And that is his commitment: to bring them home safely, to bring them back home to their families and their loved ones. That is the commitment that this President has, and that’s the work that you have been seeing from this administration.
Q Thank you, Karine. In this prisoner swap, why did Russia get such a better deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, you know, I’ve talked about this, and I’ll say this again. Here were our choices. Our choices was: Brittney or no one at all. Bring home one American or no American at all. And that’s — that’s —
Q And they give up a professional athlete. We gave up a prolific arms dealer who was convicted of trying to kill Americans, who is called the “Merchant of Death.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The professional athlete is also an American citizen — so let’s not forget that — who deserved —
Q And Paul Whelan is an American citizen. So we could do this all day.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And so — and — and I’ve explained how the Russians have illegally treated — totally illegitimately treated his situation. I’ve been very clear on that. We’ve laid that all — we laid that out for you.
And, again, the President felt that this was an opportunity to bring Brittney home.
He is going to continue to do everything he can to bring Paul Whelan home, just like he did with Trevor Reed — just like he was able to secure Trevor Reed’s release.
Q How can you say that he’s going to do everything that he can if he said, just a few days ago, he’s not going to call up Vladimir Putin until further notice?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We were able to do this through — through different channels. Right? We were able to do this through — through different avenues — folks from the U.S. government that were able to make that negotiation, have those conversation and secure Brittney’s return.
So, we were — we have been able to do this. And the President has been committed to getting this done. We are still working to secure Paul Whelan. At this time, we were not able to make that happen. But that does not stop us. That will not stop us in making sure that Paul returns back home safely to his family.
Q And just one other topic. You’ve said a few times that you really can’t talk about communications between the Biden campaign and Twitter. Who is telling you that that’s off limits?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ve already had that conversation with you — with your colleague, I believe, yesterday. I’ve already addressed this multiple times this week, so I don’t have anything more to add.
Again, I — we’ve — we’ve litigated this all week. Don’t have anything to add.
Q But it’s not a — so, not a campaign question, though, an administration question —
Q Karine, in the back, please.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m going to the back. I’m going to the back. I’m going to the back.
Q Yeah, thanks, Karine. On a different topic —
Q That’s not the back. That’s the middle.
Q — so the incoming —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ll keep — we’ll keep going.
Q The incoming — so —
Q Also, I’m the most hungover in the room, as you promised yesterday. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, are you? (Laughs.) Okay. I’m coming back.
Q My head is killing me. Wow.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re right. I said that I would go to the most hungover person in the room. You’re right. (Laughter.) Go ahead. That was the promise I made last night. You’re absolutely right.
Q So the incoming House leader has announced that he will create a select committee on China, and I wanted to get the President’s thoughts about this committee. Do we need another set of eyeballs on the U.S. policies towards China?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’re going to — I would refer you to the committee on its internal committee — committee process here — to Congress, I would refer you to.
Under President Biden, we are more prepared to outcompete China, protect our national security, and advance a free and open Indo-Pacific than ever before. We look forward to continue working with Congress on these priorities — priorities where — you know, important issues, our top priority on this. But I refer you to Congress.
Q But there doesn’t need to be a review of the whole relationship with China?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I would refer you to Congress on their internal process here. All right. All right.
Q Thanks, Karine. A few questions. First, on Brittney Griner. You mentioned that Brittney is a part of two communities: the Black community and the LGBTQ+ community. There were, as you know, many advocacy groups and civil rights organizations that were rallying for her. To what degree was that helpful or impactful to the administration’s work to bring her home?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I will just refer to you — to what Cherelle said — Cherelle Griner said at the — at the podium earlier today — right? — in the Roosevelt Room. And you saw her speak to — to the folks outside of her network, outside of the administration who were — who she applauded and thanked for their support.
And, yeah, you know, does that matter? Of course that matters. But I want to be very clear as well: The President has been committed to this. He showed — he has shown his commitment just the past almost two years of his administration, when it comes to bringing home Americans who have been wrongfully detained. That is something that you’ve seen his administration work through.
And so, I’ll leave it there. But I’ll, you know, kind of just — kind of relay what Cherelle said and what I repeated moments ago.
Q And TheGrio learned that the administration has reached out to the families of victims of police violence — those who were killed by police officers — to update them on the executive order that President Biden signed earlier this year in May. Do you have any update on the implementation of this executive order?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the passing — the George — let me just start there — passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has been a priority for this President, and he’s going to continue to work with Congress to get that done, to get this bill to his desk so he can sign it.
At the same time, the entire administration, as you’re asking me, remains committed to implementing the President’s executive order to help strengthen public trust and public safety.
I don’t have anything specific on — to share with you, but we are committed to execute — executing that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sorry, I’ll move to the back in a second.
Q Thank you, Karine. The sister of Emad Sharghi, who is an American-Iranian hostage in Tehran, gave an emotional interview this morning. She said she was thrilled for the release of Brittney Griner, but she’s disappointed that neither the President nor Jake Sullivan met with her or her family. So —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can you say the name one more time?
Q His name is Emad Sharghi. He’s an American-Iranian hostage. So, some people accused the White House of double standard. Why until now she was unable to meet with anybody in the White House? And what are you doing to release Americans who are held in Iranian jail until now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re talking about Ibrahim Almadi, or are you talking about someone else? I didn’t hear the name.
Q His name is Emad Sharghi.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q And his sister is called Neda Sharghi.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, look, I don’t know that case specifically, so I can’t speak to it from here at this time. I would have to check.
I would also refer you to the State Department to get an update on that particular — particular situation. So don’t want to get ahead of what the State Department might share.
Q But she wants to meet with the President at the White House, just like —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand. I completely understand your question. I would need to talk to the State Department or even refer you to the State Department on that particular — specific case. I don’t have anything to share with you at this time.
What I can tell you is that the President is committed and continues to be committed in getting American — American citizens back home who are being held, who are wrongfully detained.
I don’t know the specific case, so can’t speak to it, can’t speak to where we are internally or any — any outreach that has occurred.
Q Any update on the Iranian — on the Americans held in Iran? Hostages.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t have an update for you at this time. I would refer you to the Department of State. Okay?
Q Thanks, Karine. Just two follow-ups on things you’ve said about Griner today. You’ve said a couple times that, in recent weeks, it’s become clear that the Russians were willing to reach an agreement to secure Griner’s release but they continue to treat Whelan differently. When you say “in recent weeks,” do you mean after the midterm elections?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have the specific timeline for you. What I was able to share is “in recent weeks.” Don’t have two weeks, three weeks. I can just say for sure “in recent weeks.”
But, look, you know, again, the President has — has worked tirelessly and has — so has his administration to — to get — wanting to get both of them home. We have said this over and over again. But, regrettably, the Russians have treated Paul Whelan’s situation very differently, in a totally illegitimate way.
And so they are not — were not operating in good faith, and we were left in a situation where it was either bringing Brittney home or no one at all. And so we took the opportunity of bringing Brittney home to her family and her friends. And we are going to continue to work — going to continue to keep it a priority to get Paul home.
Q Well, that leads to my follow-up, which was: You’ve also said the Russians are not operating in good faith. You said that a couple of times. What exactly do you mean by “not operating in good faith”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get into specific negotiations. All I can tell you: They were not — they’re not able to operate in good faith at this time.
But, again, we are — in order to increase the chances for our success, we’re not going to discuss more about the negotiations for his release in public. I’m sure you understand why — that we’re not willing to do that.
But, again, we are going to continue to work very hard. The President is committed to this, in securing Paul’s return.
Q Hey, Karine. Back on Marc Fogel for a second. He’s doing a 14-year sentence for less than an ounce of pot. Would you say he’s been wrongfully detained? There’s some lawmakers who want to classify it that way.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I can’t — I can’t speak to any individual, specific case at this time.
I would refer you to the State Department. Everyone has a different classification. I don’t want to get ahead of — of what the State Department is looking to move forward or how their diplomatic conversations or how they’re looking to move forward with that particular person.
But we want — we want Americans to know that their safety and security is among our highest priorities.
Again, I don’t want to get into specific — specific individuals from here.
Q And on Viktor Bout: Has the Kremlin had to give any assurances somehow that he will not go back to arming despots and dictators?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get into negotiations from here — what was discussed.
Q No, but that’s (inaudible) —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I’m not — but that’s kind of part of the specific negotiations. I’m just not going to get into — into specifics from here of what was discussed.
Go ahead. Go ahead. You.
Q You were asked previously about the security assessment regarding Viktor Bout, and you said that the United States would stay vigilant. It sounds like the administration still sees him as a security threat. No?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re saying — the question is, and the question has been placed to us, is do we have security concerns. Right? And what we have said is that the President did not make this decision lightly. Just want to make that very clear. But he believed this was the right thing to do to secure Brittney’s release. And we are always going to stay vigilant. That is something — when it comes to our national security, that is something that the President and his administration will do, and we will sif- — swiftly act to protect it, to protect our national security. And that is true yesterday. That is true today. And that will be true after Mr. Bout’s release. So that is a commitment that the President has made.
Q So you still have security concerns?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to — I’m — you know, I’m not the Intelligence Committee here, so I’m not going to get into any intelligence about that particular individual. What I can tell you is our commitment and how this was not a decision that the President made lightly.
Q And then, on a different topic: Amidst protests in China against the CCP, and after Apple changed its AirDrop feature for Chinese iPhone users, why was Tim Cook seated at the head table during the last state dinner here at the White House?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any specifics on — on who was invited, why they were invited. Don’t have that to share with you.
As you know, Tim Cook was also in Phoenix, Arizona, when the President was talking about the CHIPS and Science Act. Made a very important announcement. Remember, the President’s priority here has been and continues to be, as he’s — he is pushing his economic priorities, is to make sure that we’re creating manufacturing jobs right here in the U.S.
And we have seen more than 700,000 manufacturing jobs created under this President. And it is important. It is going to change the lives of Americans across the country.
And we’ve heard from everyday people in Arizona talking about how — how the announcement that the President made is going to do that, how the CHIPS and Science Act is changing the lives of Americans.
I’m not going to speak to specific — every specific individual invites that was made last week.
Q Thank you. As the year comes to an end, how do you see the relationship between the U.S. and India in this year, 2022?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that — say that again.
Q As this year comes to an end now, how do you see the relationship between the two countries, India and U.S., in 2022?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we see our — the U.S. relationship with India is strong. That’s what we believe. We see it as a strong relationship. President Biden and all levels of U.S. government are in touch with our Indian partners — or their counterparts.
We are grateful for their leadership at the — at the last G20 and look forward to working closely with India as they’re new chair of the G20.
So we also look forward to continue working with India on a range of important regional and global issues as well.
Q But you don’t have a U.S. ambassador to India for more than — about two years now. What’s the status on that? When can you have the ambassador there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as Secretary Blinken spoke to this very recently, and we have a crucial and, as I just stated, a consequential relationship with India. We continue to seek the ex- — the confirmation of Mayor Garcetti. We want that to — we want to see that happen quickly, who — who, as you know, was voted out of committee with strong bipartisan support to serve as ambassador to India. And so we will continue to — to — we have — we don’t have any updates on timing, but we will continue to push that forward.
Q One final one. You know the President has quite often spoken about people-to-people relationship between India and U.S. And right now, the visa wait time period for people in India at the U.S. Embassy and Consulate is more than 1,000 days. I think this is historic in nature. Is the President aware about it? What’s this administration doing to address this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I can say that the Biden administration is aware of the issues. While we have made great strides, as you know — because you cover this very closely — in recovering from the pandemic-related closures and staffing challenges, we are still working to respond to the significant demand of these visa services. That is something that we will continue to do.
We are successfully lowering visa interview wait times — that’s around the world. And we’ve doubled our hiring of U.S. foreign service personnel to do this important work. Visa processing is recovering faster than projected. And this year, we expect to reach pre-pandemic processing levels. And any specifics or more about the visa process, I would refer you to the State Department on that.
Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Can you take a question on the U.S.-Africa Summit?
Q Thank you, Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Can you take a question on the U.S.-Africa Summit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Karine, you’ve —
Q Karine, why is it so hard to take a question on the U.S.-Africa Summit, when the President is meeting 50 African leaders — the biggest gathering of leaders of his administration? Why is it hard for you to give me a question?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is not hard. I’ve answered — I —
Q No, it is hard, because it’s been months. You don’t —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Would you let me answer the question? Or are you going to —
Q I don’t want to yell, but you don’t give us (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. I’m trying to answer your question.
Go ahead, sir. Go ahead.
Q Thanks. I have two —
Q Can I — can I ask a question?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just tried. You wouldn’t let me.
Q I have two quick questions —
Q No, but can I ask you a question?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just tried, and you would not let me, sir —
Q I have two —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — so your colleague is going to ask a question.
Q So let — so let me ask you a question on the U.S.-Africa Summit.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I just — I literally just tried to answer your question. You shut me down. So now your colleague is going to —
Q Okay, so let me ask the question first, before you answer it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Thanks, everybody. I’ll see you tomorrow.
1:41 P.M. EST