Donald Trump claimed on Sunday that he turned down a prisoner swap deal with Russia in which Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms dealer, would have been exchanged for ex-US Marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia for four years.
Whelan, 52, is currently serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on false espionage charges. According to the US, he has been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia since 2018.
He made the shocking claim on Truth Social on Sunday night, and he continued to criticise the deal that resulted in the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody last week.
He initially slammed the deal shortly after it was announced, accusing President Joe Biden and the administration of negotiating Griner’s release with someone who “hates our country.”
Trump went on to say on Sunday, “I turned down a deal with Russia for a one-on-one swap of the so-called Merchant of Death for Paul Whelan.”
However, according to the former President of the United States, he declined the offer.
David Whelan, Whelan’s brother, reacted angrily to Trump’s renewed interest in his brother’s case, tweeting on Friday, “Former President Trump appears to have mentioned my brother Paul Whelan’s wrongful detention more in the last 24 hours than he did in the two years of his presidency during which Paul was held hostage by Russia” (zero). I don’t think he cares any more now than he did then (zero).”
Former National Security Council Russia specialist Fiona Hill confirmed to Face The Nation on Sunday that Russia asked the Trump administration to swap Bout and another Russian – drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko – for Whelan following his arrest in 2018. Hill stated that Russia brought up the issue “many times.”
The Russians “put the pair on the table,” according to Hill, and made it “very clear that they had every intent of trying to swap Americans who had been wrongfully detained for individuals in US custody who were there for pretty good reasons.”
“This is all part of the Russian government’s political game.”
Hill claimed that the swap was rejected because “President Trump wasn’t particularly interested in engaging in that swap” at the time.