After President Joe Biden announced that the United States would release a Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death" in exchange for WNBA player Brittney Griner on Thursday morning, some within the president's administration — as well as a notable Democrat lawmaker on Capitol Hill — slammed the lopsided trade.
As a refresher, Viktor "Merchant of Death" Bout was serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to kill Americans, trafficking anti-aircraft missiles, and providing material support to terrorists.
Bout, who was swapped for Griner with Russia, was convicted in 2011 for conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to the FARC, a U.S.-designated terrorist group in Colombia, to be used to kill Americans according to the Justice Department pic.twitter.com/nbvGEeMYEN— Robbie Gramer (@RobbieGramer) December 8, 2022
Not exactly the kind of guy who, as a newly-free man, has likely been reformed during his stint in the slammer. In August of this year, the man who oversaw the effort to capture Bout wrote in Foreign Policy that if Biden traded the "Merchant of Death," such a decision "wouldn’t just be a slap in the face of the law enforcement officers and operatives who labored to bring Bout down, many of them risking their lives in the process" but "would also pose a grave threat to the national security of the United States and its allies."
To wit, a "senior Defense Department official" quoted by Politico said that "there is a concern that [Bout] would return to doing the same kind of work that he’s done in the past." Despite staying anonymous, the concerns apparently spreading at the Pentagon are also shared by named Democrats as well.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, did not hold back in his evaluation of Biden's decision to free the "Merchant of Death," calling the prisoner swap that freed Bout a "deeply disturbing decision."
This should be a moment of deep reflection for the United States government to recognize we have a serious problem with hostage-taking of Americans. The Russians and other regimes that take American citizens hostage cannot pretend that there is equivalence between the Brittney Griner’s of the world and people like Viktor Bout, the so-called ‘Merchant of Death.’ Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision. We must stop inviting dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans overseas as bargaining chips, and we must try to do better at encouraging American citizens against traveling to places like Russia where they are primary targets for this type of unlawful detention.
In Thursday's White House press briefing, Karine Jean-Pierre struggled to assuage any concerns from Menendez or the Pentagon about the "Merchant of Death" or that his freedom granted by President Biden wouldn't result in him quickly becoming a threat to U.S. security.
In one exchange with Real Clear Politics' Phil Wegmann, Jean-Pierre refused to say the dangerous terrorist-supporting arms dealer presented a security concern to the White House. Apparently, speaking for the President of the United States does not qualify her to answer since she's "not the intelligence committee." How convenient.
"You said the United States would stay vigilant. It sounds like the administration still sees [Viktor Bout] as a security threat, no?"— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) December 8, 2022
KJP: "We are always going to stay vigilant."
"So you still have security concerns?"
KJP: "I'm not the intelligence committee here." pic.twitter.com/m1XUVvwox3
And in another back-and-forth with Peter Doocy, Jean-Pierre struggled further to explain why the swap was so lopsided and resulted in the freeing of a dangerous international terrorist-supporting arms dealer:
FULL EXCHANGE:— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) December 8, 2022
Peter Doocy clashes with Karine Jean-Pierre over Brittney Griner prisoner swap.
"Why did Russia get such a better deal?" pic.twitter.com/X7umAXbFNb
If the Biden administration expected to take a victory lap on the prisoner swap this week, they clearly thought wrong — as demonstrated by the way Jean-Pierre ended Thursday's briefing:
Karine Jean-Pierre just stormed out of the briefing room after losing her patience with a reporter. pic.twitter.com/OXU16xhNQZ— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) December 8, 2022