Gift Idea: Convertible Backpack –

I wasn’t on the morning thread, but concur that Whelan is by no means some squeaky clean Marine. (I’m an Army vet and get really tired of veterans doing shady, criminal and/or reprehensible ish that can make us all look bad. We’re only 1% of the population, so when vets do something stupid, I feel like it reflects poorly on all of us.)

FWIW, this was in the Politico PM newsletter about an hour ago:

FREEDOM — WNBA star BRITTNEY GRINER was released from Russian detention today and is returning home to the U.S. after the countries agreed to end her nine-month saga with a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer VIKTOR BOUT, as CBS’ Andres Triay, Pat Milton, Margaret Brennan, Christina Ruffini, Steven Portnoy and Arden Farhi scooped.

After extended negotiations, President JOE BIDEN signed off on the deal within the last week and commuted Bout’s sentence. CBS learned about the agreement a week ago but agreed to delay publication given the danger that it could fall apart.

“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time,” Biden said. “We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations.”

CHERELLE GRINER, Brittney Griner’s wife, thanked the administration and broke into a big grin at the end of her comments: “Today, it’s just a happy day for me and my family, so I’m going to smile right now.”

Griner’s release is a high-profile victory for the administration’s efforts to bring detained Americans home — and a rare example of ongoing diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia despite the war in Ukraine. “But Moscow drove a hard bargain,” notes WaPo’s Robyn Dixon: Despite American entreaties, Russia wouldn’t agree to a two-for-one swap to release PAUL WHELAN alongside Griner.

Whelan’s four-year detention was the cloud that hung over the Griner announcement. Biden said Russia is handling his case differently “for totally illegitimate reasons” but that the U.S. wouldn’t stop advocating for him. In a statement, his brother DAVID WHELAN said the news was “a catastrophe for Paul,” but he expressed appreciation for the government’s advance notice. “The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

Paul Whelan told CNN’s Jennifer Hansler by phone that he was “greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release … I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

There’s also concern about the decision to release Bout, as Lara Seligman reports . Some Pentagon officials worry that the trafficker, known as the “Merchant of Death,” will “return to illegally trafficking weapons, potentially fueling conflicts across the world,” especially in Africa. “We cannot ignore that releasing Bout back into the world is a deeply disturbing decision,” Senate Foreign Relations Chair BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) said in a statement.

Republicans are already spotlighting Bout’s release. “This is a gift to VLADIMIR PUTIN, and it endangers American lives,” House GOP Leader KEVIN McCARTHY tweeted . “Leaving Paul Whelan behind for this is unconscionable.”

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