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'I'm terrified': Brittney Griner sends Biden handwritten letter amid trial in Russia

The WNBA star, being tried on drug smuggling charges, wrote that July Fourth and the freedom it enables mean "something completely different to me this year."
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WNBA star Brittney Griner asked President Joe Biden to bring her home from detention in Russia, where she is being tried on drug smuggling charges, telling the president in a handwritten letter: "I'm terrified."

“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,” Griner wrote.

A spokesperson who released excerpts of Griner’s letter Monday said the document was delivered to the president at the White House on Monday. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury during a game against the Chicago Sky in Phoenix on Oct. 10.Michael Gonzales / NBAE via Getty Images file

Griner, 31, a Houston native who is a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February by Russian Federal Customs Service agents at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. She plays for a Russian team during the WNBA's offseason.

“I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates!” she wrote to Biden. “It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

Russian authorities allege that she was in possession of cannabis-derived vape cartridges. Griner's representatives haven’t addressed the technical substance of what she is alleged to have possessed, and the line between non-psychoactive cannabidiol — better known as CBD, which is popular among athletes as a possible aid in workout recovery — and psychoactive cannabis isn’t recognized in Russia. CBD is generally recognized as legal in the U.S., and the World Anti-Doping Agency removed it from its list of prohibited substances in 2018.

In her letter, Griner recognized July Fourth as a time to celebrate the nation’s freedoms.

"On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran," Griner said. "It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year."

She implored Biden to continue working to free her.

"I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees," she wrote. "Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore."

The White House has been steadfast in its stance that Griner is being wrongfully detained; officials have said they're working behind the scenes to free her. "The U.S. government continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement Monday, adding that the administration is in "regular contact" with her family.

"National Security Advisor Sullivan has spoken twice with Brittney’s wife over the past two weeks and the White House is closely coordinating with the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who has met with Brittney’s family, her teammates, and her support network," Watson added.

The situation is surely complicated by the animosity between the U.S. and Russia. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia invaded Ukraine and set in motion economic sanctions, the withdrawal of Western businesses and the shipping of arms and technology to Ukraine.

On June 28, national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with reporters about Griner's situation aboard Air Force One en route to Madrid, saying the matter "has the fullest attention of the president."

"The Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound," he said.

Sullivan said he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Griner's wife recently and expressed their sympathy for what the family was going through.

Griner was photographed in Russian court Friday. The next hearing was scheduled for Thursday.