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McCarthy and Jeffries demand Russia release Evan Gershkovich, Paul Whelan

In a rare joint statement, the GOP and Democratic House leaders denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for “kidnapping American citizens."
Kevin McCarthy and Hakeem Jeffries.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Thursday called on Russia to immediately release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and American businessman Paul Whelan.

"We strongly condemn Russia’s ongoing and illegal detention of journalist Evan Gershkovich and call for his immediate release. Since arresting Evan five weeks ago, Russia has failed to provide any credible evidence to justify its manufactured charges," the GOP and the Democratic House leaders said in a rare joint statement.

Journalism is not a crime, they said, and added that Gershkovich's detention is "another deeply concerning attack on freedom of the press across the globe."

Both congressional leaders denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government for "kidnapping American citizens and using Soviet-style show trials to unjustly imprison them."

They said that the Kremlin is holding Gershkovich "hostage" and that "it continues to unjustly imprison Paul Whelan."

"Russia must release Gershkovich and Whelan now," their statement said.

Russian authorities in late March arrested Gershkovich in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg on spying charges. The Journal denied the charges.

President Joe Biden on Saturday praised Gershkovich for his courage and said the detained journalist “wanted to report in Russia to shed light on the darkness” that his family escaped from under the then-Soviet Union. Biden delivered the remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which was attended by Gershkovich's family.

Last month, the State Department formally declared that Gershkovich was being wrongfully detained by Russia — an official classification that allows its Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs to devote even more resources to secure his release.

The Biden administration is also working on the case of Whelan, a former Marine who was detained in 2018 in Russia and accused of espionage, a charge that he and the U.S. government have denied. In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

In December, the Biden administration secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner — who was arrested last February at a Moscow airport and found guilty of trying to smuggle illegal narcotics into the country. The U.S. had negotiated her release from a Russian penal colony in exchange for a Russian arms dealer.

Biden signed off on the trade, which did not include Whelan.