Paul Whelan's brother speaks on his Russian detention, US government response
Paul Whelan was found guilty of espionage charges in June 2020.
The twin brother of Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine detained in Russia on espionage charges, said he had mixed feelings about the responses to the cases involving Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner in comparison to his brother.
Reed, another former U.S. Marine who was released from a Russian prison in April after serving nearly three years, told Good Morning America that the Biden administration is "not doing enough" for Paul Whelan and Griner, an American WNBA player and Olympic athlete that was detained in February on drug charges.
Speaking about Reed’s recent release, David Whelan described his “mixed feelings.”
“You're thrilled for Trevor Reed, and I would be thrilled for Brittney Griner if she was able to go home too,” David Whelan told ABC News' podcast "Start Here," and continued “separately from whether Paul gets to go home or not.”
“It's a devastating call to have to make to our parents for Paul,” he added, “to tell him he was left behind once, and maybe we might have to have that conversation a second time.”
David Whelan said that during the phone call, his brother was “very angry and very upset” and said “why was I left behind?”
During a press briefing Thursday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed Paul Whelan's detainment and that of others. .
“This President is doing everything that he can to make sure that they come home safely,” said Jean-Pierre. “We’re going to use any — every means that we have.”
Paul Whelan was detained in Russia in December 2018 and accused of spying. His brother said he was in Moscow for a friend's wedding and was given a USB drive.
“I think one of the challenges for any wrongfully detained family is what are you going to do?” David Whelan said.. “What are you going to sacrifice?”
“One of the friends that he had made in Russia visited him the night of the wedding right before the wedding happened, and gave Paul USB,” he said. “As soon as he was given the USB stick and put it in his pocket, his door was opened by the FSB. And he was arrested.”
Paul Whelan pleaded not guilty, claiming it was a sting operation and that he thought the USB drive contained holiday photos. In June 2020, he was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years of “hard labor” in a Russian prison.
Before the Biden administration, the response of the White House to his brothers’ detainment was “radio silence,” said David Whelan. “Since January or February 2021, we've had a huge change.”
At one point, David Whelan said that somebody in the State Department asked his family to “make more noise” about Paul Whelan’s detention.
“We mostly pointed back at them and say, ‘Why would you ask a family to have to take on this responsibility,’” said David Whelan.
Asked by ABC News’ Brad Mielke to speak about the overlaps between the three cases, David Whelan said that “each of these cases is distinct. And each of them has different requirements. And so the resources that the U.S. government brings to bear on each case is going to be different.”
Later in the interview, he added, “I would hope that the U.S. government would look deep to find out what that concession is that they could make and to make it there. There's got to be something that they can do.”
President Biden called Paul and David Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, Friday to reaffirm his commitment to bringing the former marine home.
"Today, President Biden called Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan who has been wrongfully detained by Russia since 2018," a White House official said.