The family members of U.S. national Paul Whelan — who remains in Russian prison — are "astonished" to find that they were left out of communications between President Biden and the wife of fellow captive Brittney Griner.
Griner is in the middle of a trial that began Friday to determine her fate. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and, unlike in U.S. courts, acquittals can be overturned.
Biden's phone call to Griner's wife, Cherelle, in the midst of the trial raised eyebrows from members of the Whelan family, who say the government has failed to make meaningful progress on Paul's case.
"We are astonished at this development and feel badly for our elderly parents, and in particular for Paul," Elizabeth Whelan said to local outlet The Detroit News on Wednesday.
"Does this mean he is going to be left behind yet again?" they asked.
Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of espionage. He was sentenced to 16 years hard labor in 2020.
Griner has been imprisoned since February of this year after e-cigarettes containing cannabis oil were found in her belongings. She pled guilty Thursday to drug possession, but said she had had no intent to break the law.
Whelan's twin brother, David, said he holds no animosity towards the Griner family for the special attention, but questioned the difference in treatment.
"I don't begrudge Ms. Griner and her supporters their success in getting the president's attention while he ignores so many other families," David said.
He continued, "It suggests the only way to get the White House's attention, under President Trump or President Biden, is to have celebrity and wealth and resources that most wrongful detainees do not have."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Griner had received a letter from President Biden at the courthouse Thursday.
"US Embassy in Russia officials again attended Brittney Griner’s trial today and delivered to her a letter from President Biden," Blinken wrote on social media. "We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones."