Antony Blinken Says He's 'Personally' Focused On Bringing Brittney Griner Home

“Just know this is a matter of intense focus for us," the U.S. secretary of state told reporters of the WNBA star wrongfully detained in Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that it’s a personal priority for him to bring home WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for months.

“It’s something that I’m personally focused on,” Blinken told a group of LGBTQ reporters at a Wednesday roundtable at the State Department, in a show of the department’s support for Pride Month. “There’s a limit to what I can say publicly. But we are very focused on this. We are determined to bring her home.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is lesbian and plays basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was detained at a Moscow airport in February after local authorities claimed she was carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. They accused her of “smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance,” an offense punishable in Russia by up to 10 years in prison.

Last month, the State Department reclassified Griner’s status as “wrongfully detained,” meaning the United States will work more aggressively to secure her release.

Russian officials on Tuesday extended Griner’s detention for the third time. That means she will remain in Russian custody through at least July 2.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for months.
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for months.
via Associated Press

During Wednesday’s roundtable, Blinken said he has spoken to Griner’s partner and his team has spoken “extensively” to Griner’s lawyers, advocates and teammates about the situation.

Beyond that, he wouldn’t give details about the status of talks with Russian officials. “Just know this is a matter of intense focus for us,” he said.

When asked why it took two months for the State Department to classify Griner as “wrongfully detained,” Blinken said there’s a formal process the department has to go through, and a set of specific criteria for meeting that definition.

Those criteria include whether someone is being detained as a political pawn, whether someone is being held simply because he or she is an American, and whether due process is being afforded. Blinken said the department weighs all criteria before concluding if someone has been wrongfully detained overseas.

“We have to follow the letter of the law,” he said. “This is a situation that we have in a multiplicity of countries. The first thing is to make a determination about whether any individual is being unjustly detained ... And that’s what we did in the case of Brittney Griner.”

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