Two years after his term in the White House ended without him mentioning his name, Donald Trump is now claiming the Biden administration’s prisoner swap to return wrongfully detained WNBA star Brittney Griner home is a “stupid” and “totally one-side transaction” because it did not include US Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan.
Mr Trump, under whose watch Mr Whelan was detained on bogus espionage charges just three days after Christmas in 2018, hit out at the Biden administration’s latest return of an American hostage from abroad on his Truth Social platform, writing: “Why wasn’t former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking”.
The disgraced ex-president, whose family business was convicted of criminal tax fraud earlier this week, also complained because the deal freed Ms Griner, a basketball player who he baselessly accused of hating the US, for Russian-born arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“What a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!” he wrote.
Despite Mr Trump’s professed concern for Mr Whelan, he took no action to free him during his time in the White House when he had the power to do so.
The former president was never shy about calling for the return of Americans detained abroad when it suited his political purposes or could result in an easy public relations victory for him.
Just three months after taking office, he celebrated the return of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi in the Oval Office after he convinced Egyptian dictator Fattah el-Sisi to allow her release after three years of imprisonment on exaggerated human trafficking charges. He also frequently tweeted about American Christian missionary, Andrew Brunson, who was held in Turkey. After Mr Trump pushed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to return Mr Brunson, he welcomed him home with another Oval Office photo opportunity in October 2018.
But when it came to Mr Whelan, Mr Trump was silent in the weeks and months following his 28 December 2018 arrest, and that silence continued through the final two years of his term as president.
A review of a public database of Mr Trump’s tweets and public remarks by The Independent revealed that he did not utter Paul Whelan’s name even once during the countless public appearances and media availabilities he participated in when his Oval Office workplace was just steps from the White House briefing room.
Mr Trump’s then-national security adviser, John Bolton, eventually took a meeting with Mr Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, approximately six months after his arrest, on 16 June 2019. Mr Bolton later wrote on Twitter that the meeting had been “productive” and said Russia had “produced no evidence” that he had committed any wrongdoing.
But apart from that meeting, Mr Trump’s administration did not take any public actions to encourage Mr Whelan’s release, leading him to desperately implore the then-president to help during a 20 June 2019 court appearance.
“Mister President, we cannot keep America great unless we aggressively protect and defend American citizens wherever they are in the world. Tweet your intentions,” he said from the prisoner’s dock in a Moscow courtroom.
Mr Trump never tweeted about him, nor did he raise his case during a June 2019 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 that year.
But the then-president did task his special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert O’Brien, with seeing to another matter of great importance to Mr Trump. He traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to observe the trial of another American, the rapper A$AP Rocky. Mr Trump had repeatedly tweeted about the entertainer, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, after he was arrested for assault by Swedish police.
At the time, Mr O’Brien told reporters he was there to “support the members of the family and the American citizens”. But it was widely known at the time that Mr Trump had dispatched him there at the request of rapper Kanye West.
Unlike the espionage charges against Mr Whelan, which the US government has long acknowledged as fabricated, the American rapper and members of his entourage were captured on video punching and kicking a man who he later claimed had been following him.
Even as he ignored Mr Whelan’s plight, Mr Trump browbeat then Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven to bypass the court process and release A$AP Rocky, even going so far as to offer to personally pay whatever bail was required to release him from custody.
When Mr Lofven declined, the then-president took to Twitter to call out Swedish authorities, writing: “Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem!”