“He wasn’t particularly interested”: Fiona Hill refutes Trump Truth Social boasts about Paul Whelan

Paul Whelan's brother also called Trump's comments "offensive," adding that he never mentioned him in office

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 12, 2022 9:18AM (EST)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a ‘Save America’ rally in support of Arizona GOP candidates on July 22, 2022 in Prescott Valley, Arizona.  (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a ‘Save America’ rally in support of Arizona GOP candidates on July 22, 2022 in Prescott Valley, Arizona. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump drew pushback after claiming that he "would have gotten" former Marine Paul Whelan out of Russian custody while attacking President Joe Biden over his deal to free WNBA star Brittney Griner.

The Biden administration last week agreed to release Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner, who spent about 10 months detained in Russia after police allegedly found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018 on charges of spying, was excluded from the deal despite being discussed in negotiations.

Some on the right, including Trump, criticized the Biden administration for prioritizing Griner's release despite reporting that Russia refused to include Whelan in the deal as the administration had proposed.

"What kind of a deal is it to swap Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our Country, for the man known as 'The Merchant of Death,' who is one of the biggest arms dealers anywhere in the World, and responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and horrific injuries," Trump wrote on Truth Social on Friday. "Why wasn't former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking. What a "stupid" and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!"

Trump in a subsequent post on Sunday claimed that he had "turned down a deal with Russia" to exchange Bout for Whelan before claiming that he "would have gotten Paul out."

"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," he wrote. "I would have gotten Paul out, however, just as I did with a record number of other hostages. 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!"

Former White House national security official Fiona Hill told CBS News that Trump was not "particularly interested" in getting Whelan out while he was president.

"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 Sunday on "Face the Nation."

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Whelan's brother David also rejected Trump's claims, writing on Twitter that the former president appears to have mentioned his brother's "wrongful detention more in the last 24 hours than he did in the 2 years of his presidency in which Paul was held hostage."

"My brother pleaded from his prison for President Trump to tweet about him during President Trump's term in office, and President Trump didn't," David Whelan told Fox News. "And now to talk about Paul at all, it's really offensive."

Whelan told MSNBC that he believes "Biden made the right choice" in bringing Griner home and that the Biden administration is "much more engaged in wrongful detentions" than his predecessor.

"The Trump administration was not prepared to or not interested in working on wrongful detention cases," Whelan said. "As far as I can tell, the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House, they are all 100% engaged on bringing Paul home," he added. "I think what they have done is they've essentially run through the resources that they thought they might be able to get the Russians to accept as a concession. I mean, this is all about extortion. Paul was taken as a political prisoner and Russia is trying to extort something from the U.S."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Brittney Griner Donald Trump Fiona Hill Paul Whelan Politics