Former President Donald Trump ignored Russian attempts to swap former marine Paul Whelan for "Merchant of Death" arms dealer Viktor Bout, former national security adviser John Bolton said Thursday. This comes as Trump ripped President Joe Biden for agreeing to broker a deal with Russia for exchanging Bout with WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Trump slammed the Biden administration calling the deal "stupid" because it didn't include Whelan. However, Bolton in an interview claimed that Trump during his tenure shot down attempts of exchanging Whelan for Bout although the Russian government made several attempts.
Hiding His Own Mistakes
Trump, without naming his successor, said on Thursday that the decision to send Bout home in exchange for the return of Griner is "stupid" and "totally one-side transaction" because it did not include US Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan.
"Why wasn't former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking," Trump wrote on Truth Social.
This came as Bolton, the then national security adviser, in an interview with CBS claimed that Trump was in the midst of his 17-month tenure at the White House when Whelan was arrested on bogus espionage charges just three days after Christmas in 2018.
Bolton said that despite Trump's professed concern for Whelan, he didn't take any action to free him during his time in the White House when he had the power to do so. Instead, he shot down all attempts for an exchange for the same Bout who is now free and is feared to resume his old arms dealing business.
"The possibility of a Bout-for-Whelan trade existed back then," said Bolton, 74, "and it wasn't made, for very good reasons having to deal with Viktor Bout."
In June 2020, Whelan received a 16-year prison term. The Biden administration allegedly attempted to arrange the release of both Whelan and Griner on Thursday, but Moscow allegedly refused to budge, insisting on a one-for-one swap of Griner for Bout.
Bolton said on CBS that the decision to swap Bout, who was found guilty in 2011 of conspiring to kill Americans by providing weapons to a Colombian terrorist group, for a basketball player who was imprisoned for bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia, was "a very bad mistake by the Biden administration."
"Obviously, there's a lot of very understandable human emotion here in getting Griner released, but this is a very bad mistake by the Biden administration," Bolton told CBS.
"This is not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender," Bolton said. "And terrorists and rogue states all around the world will take note of this, and it endangers other Americans in the future who can be grabbed and used as bargaining chips by people who don't have the same morals and scruples that we do.
"There are occasions when you swap spies. Obviously, there are legitimate exchanges of prisoners of war," he continued.
"But this doesn't even approximate that. The idea that somehow what Brittney Griner did — very foolishly, in my estimate — but that whatever she did compares to Viktor Bout is something that shows just how desperate the administration was to make this deal. And I'm just very worried about the effect it has and the danger that it can put many other Americans in, all around the world."
Bolton agreed, calling the deal "a huge victory for Moscow over Washington."
Blame Game Starts
Trump as a president was never reticent to demand the repatriation of Americans held abroad when it served his political interests or provided a clear path to a PR success. He persuaded Egyptian dictator Fattah el-Sisi to allow Aya Hijazi's release after three years of jail on false human trafficking accusations, and just three months after entering office, he welcomed her return in the Oval Office.
Additionally, he frequently tweeted about the detained American Christian missionary Andrew Brunson. In October 2018, Trump welcomed Mr. Brunson back to the United States with yet another Oval Office photo opportunity after pressuring Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release him.
However, Trump remained silent regarding Whelan in the days, weeks, and months that followed his arrest on December 28, 2018, and this silence persisted for the next two years of his presidency.
The Independent examined a public database of Trump's tweets and public statements and found that despite the fact that he frequently appeared before the media and worked in the Oval Office just a few feet from the White House briefing room, Trump never once mentioned Paul Whelan.
According to a report in the Independent, about six months after his detention, on June 16, 2019, Bolton met with Whelan's sister, Elizabeth. Later, Bolton claimed the conversation had been "productive" and that Russia had "provided no evidence" that he had done anything wrong in a tweet.
However, other than that meeting, the Trump administration did not make any public statements to support Whelan's release, which prompted him to pleadingly ask the then-president for assistance on June 20, 2019, during a court appearance.