President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle on Wednesday, the White House said, telling her that they are working to secure the detained basketball star's release from a Russian prison "as soon as posslble."
The news came one day after the White House's top spokeswoman said that the president had read a letter from Griner, in which she said she feared she might never return home and asked that he not “forget about me and the other American Detainees."
The two-time Olympic gold medalist is in the midst of a trial in Russia that began last week after she was arrested on Feb. 17 on charges of possessing cannabis oil while returning to play for her Russian team. The trial will resume Thursday.
Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in U.S. courts, acquittals can be overturned.
In a release Wednesday, the White House said that Griner is being "wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances."
Biden Griner's wife, Cherelle, "to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world," the White House said.
Additionally, Biden read Cherelle Griner a draft of a letter that he is sending to the basketball star on Wednesday, according to the White House statement.
The president "offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home," the statement added.
Brittney Griner's agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said that Griner's letter to the president had been delivered to the White House on Monday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Tuesday that Biden had read the letter and said Griner's safe return was a "priority" for the president, though she did not outline any specific actions he is taking.
Jean-Pierre said the White House is coordinating with the presidential envoy for hostage affairs, who is in regular touch with Griner's family.
"[The president] takes this to heart. He takes this job very seriously, especially when it comes to bringing home U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained," the press secretary said.
While Biden had not yet responded to the letter, Jean-Pierre added that Griner's wife, Cherelle, had spoken to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Saturday.
Most of the letter to President Biden remains private, though Griner’s representatives shared a few lines from the hand-written note.
″…As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.
“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran,” the Phoenix Mercury center added. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
Griner pleaded with Biden in the letter to use his powers to ensure her return.
“Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore,” Griner said “I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
Griner has been able to have sporadic communications with family, friends and WNBA players through an email account her agent set up. The emails are printed out and delivered in bunches to Griner by her lawyer after they are vetted by Russian officials. Once the lawyers get back to their office, they’ll scan any responses from Griner and pass them back to the U.S. to send along.
She was supposed to have a phone call with her wife on their anniversary but it failed because of an “unfortunate mistake,” said Biden administration officials.
Griner’s supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy. The State Department in May designated her as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Griner isn’t the only American being wrongfully detained in Russia. Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director is serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction.
NOTE: A previous version of this article indicated that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had spoken to Brittany Griner. He spoke with her wife, Cherelle.