MOSCOW -- Top members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs have submitted a resolution demanding that Russia free Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine jailed by the country who U.S. officials suspect is being used as a political bargaining chip.
Reed, 29, from Granbury, Texas, was sentenced by a Moscow court to nine years in a Russian penal colony in late July, after already spending over a year in detention. He was convicted of assaulting two police officers, but in his trial police presented virtually no evidence Reed had actually done so and repeatedly contradicted their stories.
Reed is the second former U.S. Marine jailed in Russia following the case of Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years jail in Russia on espionage charges in June, and whose family and U.S. officials believe was also taken as a bargaining chip. The United States has condemned the jailing of both men and urged Russia to release them.
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, 21 Republican and Democrat representatives from Texas introduced a resolution to the Committee on Foreign Affairs demanding that Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately free Reed. The resolution was submitted by the lead Republican on the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, and ranking member Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and is backed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
"The trumped up charges brought against Trevor are clearly politically motivated," the lawmakers sponsoring the resolution said in a statement. "His sentence was based on evidence that was so utterly ludicrous that it was met with laughter in the courtroom, including from the Russian judge. We urge the Vladimir Putin regime to put a stop to this ordeal and release Trevor immediately."
Speaking at a press conference outside the Capitol with Reed's mother, Paula, after introducing the resolution, McCaul said, "I hope this sends a strong message to the Putin regime that America will not stand idly by as Putin and his cronies hold U.S. citizens as political pawns."
Reed's detention began in August 2019 after he allegedly became heavily intoxicated at a party in Moscow where he was visiting his girlfriend and studying Russian. On the way home, Reed forced friends to pull over and refused to get back in the car. Concerned he might hurt himself, they called the police to take him to a drunk tank or a police station to sober up.
Two police officers arrived and drove Reed to a station. The officers later claimed that Reed attacked them while they were driving, causing their car to swerve dangerously. But in his trial, video evidence produced by the defense showed the car never swerved and the officers repeatedly changed their accounts.
Despite that, the judge gave Reed the maximum sentence, the longest ever given in Russia for such an offense, according to his lawyers.
U.S. officials have said they believe Reed's military background, like Whelan, made him a target of opportunity for Russian authorities.
"It's clear that once they found out that Trevor had been a Marine -- and an embassy Marine -- the Putin administration thought they had a tool or a pawn that they could use to further their goals," Conaway said at the press conference.
Reed's mother spoke at the press conference, saying the past year had been a "nightmare."
"He is an innocent man," she said.
The draft resolution calls on the U.S. government to raise Reed's case in all interactions with Russia and demands that Russia provide unrestricted consular access to him.
The White House National Security Council and the State Department have also denounced Reed's trial as unjust and called on Russia to release him. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on a visit to Moscow last month raised Reed and Whelan's detentions during talks.
U.S. officials have said they believe Reed and Whelan have both been taken by Russia to use as possible leverage with the U.S. Russian officials have publicly floated the idea of trading Whelan and Reed for two Russian citizens currently jailed in the U.S. -- Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted of large-scale drug smuggling, and Viktor Bout, one of the world's best-known arms dealers convicted on terrorism charges. Both men have suspected ties to Russian intelligence.
U.S. officials have declined to comment publicly on whether any trade could be possible. But such an exchange for Bout and Yaroshenko is viewed as problematic given the U.S. considers them serious criminals and Reed and Whelan to be innocent tourists.
"I think the problem with this matter is that they're using him as a political pawn to release two very dangerous criminals. So it's like apples and orange," McCaul said.
Asked whether President Donald Trump was aware of Reed's case, McCaul said he was and that it had been raised to the "president's level."
Reed is currently still in a Moscow jail, awaiting transfer to a more remote penal colony. Whelan was moved last month to a penal colony a few hundred miles from Moscow.
Reed's father, Joey, has already spent over a year in Moscow trying to help his son. Paula Reed pleaded for his release on Wednesday.
"We have no part in the dispute between the United States and Russia," she said. "And I badly need my son Trevor to be back at home in Texas so that he can continue on with his life."
ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.