Pennsylvania Representative Guy Reschenthaler voiced frustration with the Biden administration, which released a convicted Russian arms dealer as part of a prisoner swap but left behind a former Marine and a teacher.
President Joe Biden announced on Dec. 8 that his administration had brokered the release of WNBA play Brittney Griner, who was arrested in February after cannabis oil vape cartridges were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
In exchange for Griner, the US government agreed to commute the sentence of Viktor Bout, an arms dealer who had served 12 years of a 25-year sentence. He was arrested in 2008 during a sting operation carried out by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Thailand. Bout is known as the “Merchant of Death” and was convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans relating to the support of a Colombian terrorist organization.
Reschenthaler has led efforts to bring home Pennsylvania native Marc Fogel since taking office in 2019. Fogel is a history teacher who was arrested by Russian authorities in August of 2021 after he brought an ounce of medical marijuana into the country. Fogel had been prescribed the substance in America for chronic pain after a series of injuries and surgeries.
The 61-year-old was sentenced in June of 2022 to 14 years in prison.
The congressman condemned what he regards as the federal government’s preferential treatment of famous citizens.
“Swapping a celebrity basketball player for the Merchant of Death – while excluding a Marine and a history teacher – is patently offensive and exposes the Biden Administration’s deeply rooted disdain for everyday Americans,” said Reschenthaler on Dec. 8. “It is clear [Paul Whelan] and Fogel are afterthoughts to this administration, who care more about celebrity admiration and wokeness than returning all Americans safely to their families.”
“I will continue to relentlessly advocate for Pittsburgh native Marc Fogel’s release and for the State Department to classify him as wrongfully detained, something they have failed to do since his detainment in August 2021,” he added. “Biden and Secretary Blinken better preserve their documents because the new House Republican majority is going to demand answers on this latest disaster.”
In November, Reschenthaler asked the Biden administration why it was not willing to designate Fogel as “wrongfully detained” — a term Biden has repeatedly used to describe Griner.
“As a former district judge and U.S. Navy JAG, I know when I’m being stonewalled,” said Rep. Reschenthaler in his announcement. “It is indisputable Marc Fogel meets the definition of wrongfully detained under the Levinson criteria. Yet as his health rapidly deteriorates ahead of his transfer to a hard-labor penal colony, the Biden Administration is still making excuses rather than following the letter of the law.”
His resolution of inquiry was sponsored by Pennslyvania Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson and Mike Kelly
During his press conference, President Biden only mentioned former Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested and charged with spying in 2018. In 2020, after two years in Russian custody, Whelan was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
“This wasn’t a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden said. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. While we have not succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up.”
Fogel’s wife, Jane, fears the federal government will not prioritize her husband’s release.
“There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind,” she told The Washington Post in July. “It’s terrifying. I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Marc in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.”