“Why did you leave me behind? While I’m thrilled that Trevor is back home with his family, I have been held on a phantom espionage charge for 40 months,” Whelan said in a statement to his parents and shown to CNN. “The world knows this charge was trumped up. Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release?”
Whelan, a US citizen and former Marine Corps commander, was arrested in a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and arrested on espionage charges, which he has consistently and vehemently denied. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial that US officials denounced as unfair.
In a separate statement earlier Wednesday, Whelan’s family expressed their happiness at Reid’s release after more than two years in Russian custody, but said it was a day of “various feelings” and questions for them.
Among those questions: Why was the family not given more notice of Reade’s release?
Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister, told CNN she received a call at about 7:10 a.m. Wednesday “to let us know that Trevor has returned and that Paul has not.”
“I hardly had time to alert my parents and siblings when the news was spreading,” she said, adding that she was “unhappy that we were given so little time to absorb this bad news.”
Her parents on Wednesday were “utterly devastated and crushed” and expect to have to break the news to Paul Whelan, with whom they spoke on Wednesday. Elizabeth Whelan said he had already heard it on Russian television and “was very upset”.
“When I got a virtual call with the SPEHA group later that day, I told them in no uncertain terms what I was thinking about the administration’s terrible decision to leave Paul behind,” she said, referring to the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. “I expect to continue to engage with the State Department and the National Security Council on a very regular basis until Paul returns as well.”
The Biden administration said it will continue to work for the release of Paul Whelan, as well as the release of detained NBA player Britney Greiner.
Paul Whelan’s brother David said, “I’m glad President Biden reiterated this morning his pledge to bring Paul home. Because otherwise, it’s as if his pledge to ‘not walk away’ from Paul, made last summer in Geneva, seems empty today.” . .
“The Paul Whelan case is one that we continue to work on day in and day out,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN.
“Paul Whelan is being unjustly detained in Russia. Roger Carstens and his team continue to do everything in their power to release him from Russian custody,” he said, referring to the name of the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday resisted the suggestion that the release of Konstantin Yaroshenko, exchanged for Reid, “limits the chances” of Whelan’s release, telling reporters, “We will continue to advocate for Paul’s immediate and unconditional release. Whelan at every opportunity.” and using unlawful detention as a bargaining chip poses a threat to the safety of everyone who travels, works and lives abroad.”
However, she declined to go into any further details about negotiations to bring Whelan home, telling reporters, “It is clear that our goal continues to bring Paul Whelan home, any American who is not with his family and is being detained abroad, but I’m just not going to go into further.” details because I want to keep our operation protected.”
David Whelan said that this administration “has engaged in much more communication with our family, and with the families of the other hostages, than the Trump administration has done” and that he “is confident that President Biden and his team are making an effort.”
But, as he also pointed out, “Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for Paul. Maybe one day.”
CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.