Democrat Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas recently defended President Joe Biden’s decision to swap well-known Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA player Brittney Griner. Jackson Lee claims the “Merchant of Death” never killed any Americans himself.
The congresswoman appeared on MSNBC to discuss the exchange, which Justice Department figures and Republicans have widely criticized as a poor deal. The criticism centers on concerns that Bout’s release may threaten the safety of the United States. Rep. Jackson Lee defended the exchange, saying that although Bout is a “bad guy,” he hasn’t killed any Americans himself.
“Let me say this. No one knows the story of the weapons dealer if you will. And as the facts would tell them. He was sentenced to 25 years. He served 11 to 16 years; I can’t remember the exact number. But, in actuality, his weapons might have been used to kill Americans, but he has not killed Americans. I’m not saying he’s not a nasty, bad guy. But, I will tell you that I believe Americans should know that their nation’s sovereignty will always be behind them, and they will never be forgotten. Brittany Griner deserved this fight that we put forth, so does Paul Whelan,” said Lee.
Both MSNBC host Joy Reid and Jackson Lee called out what they referred to as the “hypocrisy” of Republican critics attacking the deal.
“I never saw Kevin McCarthy or Congressman Perry or anyone of that vintage or that persuasion or that view more consumed, of course, with January 6th, 2021, and not consumed with trying to free Brittney Griner. I never saw any of them. And so, they would not be aware or involved with what was actually happening. And when President Biden, who I applaud, and the strategic negotiating team that I applaud and the State Department, began in mid-spring to ramp it up for how we could get Brittney Griner, Trevor Reed, and Paul Whelan home,” said Lee.
Jackson Lee continued, “Now, this story. Donald Trump, Jr., as his father, always without facts, election deniers, and probably thinking January 6th was a picnic. We tried to get both, even to the extent of having someone in the back pocket that it could be two for two. This is desperate, a vicious leader, killing people in Ukraine, incarcerating and locking up Russians who oppose the war. And we had start and stop, start and stop, start and stop. And everyone should know that President Biden asked for someone who is a murderer, held in Germany.”
White House: Kremlin would only exchange Griner for Bout, not Whelan
According to the Biden administration, the Kremlin would only exchange Griner for Bout. However, NBC News released a conflicting report suggesting Biden had the choice between Griner and Whelan. Later, they issued a correction saying Griner was the only choice in the exchange.
“It was Putin who said, you take this deal, joy, or you get nothing. I wish these Republicans, who are about to take leadership in the House, would begin to tell the truth to the American people. Because maybe we might get one bipartisan action done if they would learn to tell the truth,” said Lee.
Bout was serving a sentence of 25 years after being convicted of conspiracy to deliver anti-aircraft missiles, aiding a terrorist organization, and conspiracy to kill Americans in 2011.