(The Hill) — Former President Trump on Sunday said he turned down a deal to release former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who’s been detained by Moscow since 2018, in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout during his time in the White House.
“I turned down a deal with Russia for a one on one swap of the so-called Merchant of Death for Paul Whelan. I wouldn’t have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone that has killed untold numbers of people with his arms deals,” Trump said on Truth Social.
Bout was released last week in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who spent about 10 months in Russian custody.
Trump criticized the deal soon after news broke of Griner’s release, saying Whelan should have been freed instead.
The Biden administration has said Russia was unwilling to include Whelan in a swap for Bout.
Trump said Sunday that, although he turned down the deal with Moscow, he “would have gotten Paul out,” though didn’t explain why he wasn’t able to do so.
“The deal for Griner is crazy and bad. The taking wouldn’t have even happened during my Administration, but if it did, I would have gotten her out, fast!” Trump said.
Former Trump White House national security official Fiona Hill said Sunday that the deal to swap Bout for Whelan was a possibility while Trump was in office.
“At the particular time, I also have to say here that President Trump wasn’t especially interested in engaging in that swap for also Paul Whelan. He was not particularly interested in Paul’s case in the way that one would have thought he would be,” Hill said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” with Margaret Brennan.
David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s brother, has also accused the Trump administration of not appearing “interested in” the case.
“I think the first two years, partly I think the Trump administration was not prepared to or not interested in working on wrongful detention cases,” David Whelan said Saturday on MSNBC.
“The Biden administration is much more engaged in wrongful detentions,” he added.