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Griner-Bout swap prompts worry about future captures

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(NewsNation) — A prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia that brought Brittney Griner home was met with both praise and criticism, including from some who contend prisoner swaps in general put more Americans at risk in the future.

One of those people is John Bolton, the former national security adviser under former President Donald Trump.

Speaking Thursday on “CUOMO,” Bolton argued the principle of prisoner swaps in general is not good foreign policy that must be avoided.

“It has been done before, but I would never do it,” Bolton said. “I think every time we make an exchange with a rogue state, with a totalitarian country, with a terrorist group, we are setting a price in effect on other Americans.”

Griner was arrested in February on drug charges just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony.

The White House negotiated her release in exchange for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer who was serving a 25-year prison sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.

Earlier this year the Biden administration said it was determined to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years. Whelan was arrested in 2018, convicted of espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

But Thursday’s exchange did not include Whelan.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” President Joe Biden said. “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”

Republicans were swift to criticize Biden for not also securing Whelan’s release. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the exchange a “gift” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bolton agreed with the sentiment.

“I think it was a terrible deal for the United States,” Bolton said. “Viktor Bout is a serious criminal, and I’m not going to get into any more specifics than that, but we’ve known about it for a long time. Personally, I wouldn’t trade Viktor Bout for anybody.”

Griner’s supporters had largely stayed quiet for weeks after her arrest, but that approach changed in May once the State Department designated her as unlawfully detained. A separate trade, Marine veteran Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted in the U.S. in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, spurred hope that additional such exchanges could be in the works.

Whelan was not included in the Reed prisoner swap, escalating pressure on the Biden administration to ensure that any deal that brought home Griner also included him.

“I’m not criticizing simply the Biden administration here,” Bolton said. “I think in many cases we just have not thought through what the implications are and what we could do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.