Biden, Harris speak to Cherelle Griner, wife of detained WNBA star Brittney Griner

The president said he will respond to a letter he received from Griner.

July 06, 2022, 5:04 PM

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Brittney Griner’s wife to discuss efforts to release the WNBA star, who has been detained in Russia since February, according to the White House.

“The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” the White House said in a statement, adding that Biden will respond to a letter from Griner on Wednesday. “He also read her a draft of the letter the president is sending to Brittney Griner today."

PHOTO: Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury walks hand and hand with wife Cherelle in Palmetto, Fla., Aug. 10, 2020.
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury walks hand and hand with wife Cherelle in Palmetto, Fla., Aug. 10, 2020.
Douglas P. Defelice/Getty Images, FILE

The call came amid a public pressure campaign urging the Biden administration to double down on its efforts to secure the WNBA star's release.

A group of more than 1,110 Black women leaders from across industries sent an open letter on Wednesday to Biden and Harris, calling on the administration to make a deal with Russia to bring Griner home.

“It is imperative, President Biden, that you address this ongoing human rights crisis and make a deal to bring Brittney home quickly and safely,” the women wrote.

“More than prioritizing her immediate return in word – you must do so in deed and make a deal to bring Brittney home,” they added.

The signatories of the letter include WNBA Hall of Fame player and coach Dawn Staley, WNBA Players Association Executive Director Terri Jackson, Bernice King, Tina Knowles-Lawson and singer Ledisi.

Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement on Tuesday that he wants Biden and Blinken to arrange a trip for faith leaders to see Griner in prison as part of a prayer visit.

"After speaking with her wife last week, I am deeply concerned for Brittney Griner's physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing," Sharpton said in the statement.

"She deserves to see the United States is doing something for her, so she can find the strength as this show trial goes on," he said.

Biden received a handwritten letter from Brittney Griner on Monday, expressing her fear that she may be in Russian custody “forever.”

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I'm terrified I might be here forever," Brittney Griner wrote.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris attend a signage ceremony at the White House in Washington, June 13, 2022.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris attend a signage ceremony at the White House in Washington, June 13, 2022.
Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters, FILE

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday that Brittney Griner's letter was "very personal" to the president.

Russian officials took Brittney Griner into custody at Sheremetyevo International Airport on Feb. 17 after she was accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which are illegal in the country. Her trial, which began on July 1, is expected to run through Dec. 20. She is set to appear in court on Thursday for the second day of her trial.

PHOTO: Good Morning America's co-anchor Robin Roberts interviews Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle Griner, May 24, 2022.
Good Morning America's co-anchor Robin Roberts interviews Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle Griner, May 24, 2022.
Todd Wawrychuk/ABC News

While National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been in communication with Cherelle Griner, she has been vocal about her push for the president to get involved.

"There is one person that can go get her, and that's our president," she said in an interview with ESPN.

In May, Cherelle Griner sat down with Robin Roberts to discuss her fight to bring her wife home.

"You say she's top priority, but I want to see it. And I feel like to see it would be me seeing BG on U.S. soil," Cherelle Griner said in an interview.

ABC News' Shannon Crawford, Ben Gittleson, and Tanya Stukalova contributed to this report.

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