Updated 8:36 PM EDT, Wed September 13, 2023
The sister of Paul Whelan, an American who has been declared wrongfully detained in Russia, is hoping to meet again with President Joe Biden to press him to do everything he can to bring her brother home.
Elizabeth Whelan, who is in Washington, DC, this week for a series of meetings with administration and congressional officials, expressed her appreciation for the administration’s efforts but said the president will eventually need to intervene.
As of Wednesday night, no meeting with Biden had been scheduled, she told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront,” adding that she had learned earlier in the day that she “probably will not get that meeting.”
“I have to say that I am a little frustrated and trying not to be depressed. I don’t have a lot of leverage to use to get meetings – like I am not a big media company, I don’t have a lot of expensive lawyers,” Elizabeth Whelan said, noting that she will keep fighting for her brother.
Earlier Wednesday, she told CNN that though she admires the work being done by the Biden administration on her brother’s behalf, she feels they have only leveraged 80% of possible efforts to secure his release.
“I admire what they’re doing on the 80%. I really admire that they’re doing great work, but if it doesn’t get Paul home, what’s the point?” Elizabeth Whelan said.
And that’s a key area of frustration and that is why I wanted to meet with the president. I want to have his assurance that his advisers are telling him everything that needs to be done to get to 100%,” she said.
Biden met with Elizabeth Whelan in September 2022. At the time, the US president also met with the Cherelle Griner, the wife of formally detained WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was freed in a prisoner swap in December.
“It’s very much in the forefront of my mind that I was getting meetings and calls while Brittany Griner was being held. But now that she has been released, does that mean that an ordinary citizen like Paul Whelan and his family is no longer able to access those high levels?” she asked.
A National Security Council spokesperson said that US officials would meet with Elizabeth Whelan but said they did not have specific meetings to preview as of Wednesday.
“I don’t have any meetings with the President to speak to but she is in town and she is going to be meeting with the White House officials and it will be a good opportunity to update her on our efforts to get Paul back. Those efforts are very active and very ongoing,” said White House Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby Wednesday.
The Biden administration has said repeatedly that they are focused on bringing Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has also been designated by the US government as wrongfully detained, home as soon as possible.
The administration put forward a serious proposal for Whelan’s release more than eight months ago, but Russia has not responded in a substantive way, two administration officials told CNN.
And although that proposal remains a live offer, the lack of substantive Russian response – as well as Gerskovich’s detention – has forced the US to continue efforts to search for another offer to put on the table, a senior administration official said last month.
The senior administration official said that it “remains a necessity that we figure out how to resolve this.”
“If we can’t make it happen based on what’s available to us now, we’ll need to figure out what that takes so we can bring our people home,” the official said.
Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Paul Whelan and told him to “keep the faith and we’re doing everything we can to bring you home as soon as possible,” a source said. This was the second time Blinken had spoken to Whelan, who has been detained in Russia for more than four years, the source said.
On Wednesday, US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy visited Paul Whelan at his remote prison camp in Mordovia – some eight hours from Moscow, according to the embassy.
“Ambassador Tracy reiterated to him that President Biden and Secretary Blinken are committed to bring him home,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Wednesday.
David Whelan, Paul’s brother, told CNN recently that his family is beginning to come to terms with the fact that Paul Whelan may have to serve out his full sixteen year sentence on espionage charges he and the US government vehemently denied.
Elizabeth Whelan’s view, however, “is Paul is never coming home until we do what it takes to get him out,” she told CNN.
“He is not leaving Russia and everybody needs to get that in their heads and work with that in mind, work to win now in the next few months. I am really concerned that we will not see Paul back in the United States again ever if that work isn’t done,” she said.
This story has been updated with additional information.