What’s next for Brittney Griner?
The release of a former Marine has raised questions about the fate of the women’s basketball star who’s been detained in Russia since before the country invaded Ukraine.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Good Thursday morning and welcome to Supercreator, your daily guide to the politicians, power brokers and policies shaping how creators work and live in the new economy. Send me tips, comments, questions — or just say hi: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s top story is on Brittney Griner’s fate in the aftermath of the prisoner exchange that freed a former US Marine from Russian detention. But first, let’s catch up on the news:
The White House released a memo on the consequences of its lapse in COVID-19 funding as Congress debates how much additional money it will allocate for the pandemic federal response. “COVID-19 isn’t waiting on Congress to negotiate.Other countries will not wait. Time is of the essence,” the administration said. “Congress must act urgently to help save more American lives and ensure we remain prepared.”
President Biden announced his 17th round of judicial nominees, bringing his total number of nominations to 95. Almost three in four are women, 64 percent are people of color, more than one out of four have been public defenders and 22 percent have been civil rights lawyers.
The US left behind $7 billion of military equipment in Afghanistan after the 2021 withdrawal from the longest war in American history. The equipment is now in the control of the Taliban and the Defense Department has no plans to return to Afghanistan to retrieve or destroy the equipment. (Ellie Kaufman / CNN)
The Justice Department announced the creation of the National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab, a free training, technical assistance and resource hub for law enforcement. The Department said it will build on multiple initiatives designed to support best practices in policing in America.
The Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services developed three new and free informational resources that inform Americans of their rights under law on coverage for mental health benefits. The resources follow a recent report produced by HHS and the Departments of Labor and Treasury that found insurance companies are not doing enough to ensure that parity is reflected in the policies they carry.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development convened a roundtable on how to address appraisal bias. The event comes one month after the Biden administration unveiled an action plan to advance equity in appraisals, which I reported on in this story.
E-commerce sales increased by $244.2 billion or 43 percent in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, according to the Census Bureau. The uptick in online retail is due to consumer behavior changes accelerated by the pandemic and many brands pivoting their business strategies to remain competitive.
Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark led 132 members in calling for $12.4 billion in investments for early child care and programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. 171 House members also joined Clark in a request for $15.4 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start funding.
Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Anna Eshoo of California and Robin Kelly of Illinois introduced legislation to help ensure the experiences and needs of the Middle Eastern and North African community are reflected in the federal government’s focus on public health. The bill introduction comes as Arab American Heritage Month wraps up.
Democratic Reps. Mondaire Jones of New York and Jared Huffman of California sent letters to US insurance companies raising concerns about their continued investment in fossil fuel expansion projects despite the risks the projects pose to the US economy and global climate. The lawmakers urged these companies to fully consider the environmental, economic, and financial risks of climate change before underwriting fossil fuel projects.
The New York Supreme Court overturned the state’s congressional map and will now hire an outside expert to draw a new map before this year’s elections. The court ruled that the maps Democrats’ created from its redistricting process violated the state constitution in a decision that will likely cost Democrats three additional seats in the US House and help Republicans reclaim the majority based on nationwide redistricting. (Jane C. Trimm / NBC News)
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights launched after George Floyd’s killing found that The Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern of race discrimination for at least a decade. This includes stopping and arresting Black people at a higher rate than white people, using force more often on people of color and maintaining a culture where racist language is tolerated. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he was disturbed by the report and would cooperate with the state to make the needed changes. (Steve Karnowski and Mohamed Ibrahim / AP News)
A little more than one in four Americans (27 percent) say that they believe in astrology, the study and interpretation that the position of the stars and planets influences people’s lives. When asked if they know what their astrological sign is and offered the 12 signs as options, 90 percent of Americans select one of them. (Taylor Orth / YouGov)
Here’s what else you need to know today:
President Biden this morning will receive his daily intelligence briefing before speaking on US support for Ukraine. This afternoon, he will meet with small business owners. Then the president and First Lady Jill Biden will host their first official screening at the White House, showing HBO’s The Survivor in honor of Yom HaShoah and Holocaust Remembrance Week.
The film’s director, producers, lead actor and members of the American Jewish community will attend the screening.
The first lady this afternoon will also give a prerecorded speech at a virtual event for the US Agency for International Development on expanding affordable high-quality child care around the world.
The House is in and will debate and vote on legislation to streamline the process of delivering weapons to Ukraine to fight against Russia’s invasion and create new federal offices dedicated to countering domestic terrorism.
The Secretaries of Education, Energy, Homeland Security and State will also testify at separate oversight and budget hearings.
The Senate is in and will vote to go to conference with the House on a critical jobs and competitiveness bill.
Now back to today’s top story:
In an unexpected flash of good news, the White House on Wednesday announced that it secured the return of Trevor Reed, a former US Marine who had been detained in Russia since 2019.
Reed’s release also raised questions over the fate of Brittney Griner, the American women’s basketball star who has been detained in Russia since at least February after being accused of carrying cannabis oil in her luggage.
“All that the Trevor Reed release shows us is that yes, Russia and the United States are still in the game of exchanging political prisoners. We kind of knew that already,” Aron Solomon, chief legal analyst at Esquire Digital, said to Supercreator on Wednesday. “People are saying, ‘Oh, that’s great, that means Brittney Griner is going be next. It’s going to happen soon.’ I don’t see any correlation between the two at all.”
The White House confirmed that it has been in touch with the families of Griner and Paul Whelan, a US citizen and corporate security director arrested in Russia in late 2018 on accusations of being a spy.
“I’m not going to detail those conversations further,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
A spokesperson for the Congressional Black Caucus told me that it has been in close communication with the State Department as well as senior White House officials to ensure Griner’s case is a priority.
“We applaud their efforts to bring home American held in captivity in Russia and look forward to Brittney being brought home safely.”
Reed had been sentenced to nine years for allegedly attacking a Russian police officer. (He said he didn’t remember the alleged incident because he was drunk.)
The US government swapped Reed for jailed pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison for conspiring to import more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the US.
The White House said Roger Carstens, its top hostage had been negotiating for months the exchange, which took place in Turkey during the early hours of Wednesday morning, east coast time.
“I would emphasize that [Yaroshenko] had already served the majority of his prison sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. And our overriding priority here was the safe return of Trevor Reed, knowing not only had he been held against his will for too long, but that his health condition required urgent treatment,” Psaki said. “He’s going to be able to not only be reunited with his family, but to receive the treatment he needed from the United States.”
President Biden broke the news to Reed’s family once he was on his way back to the US.
“I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence,” President Biden said in a statement. “And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom.”
Critics of the federal response to Griner’s detainment would like to see the White House speak more about the case in public.
Solomon said he thinks we should be talking about the case every day even if it’s at the risk of increasing her value as a political trade for Russia.
“I think it makes a lot of sense because we tend to forget things far too quickly now and there's no way that it benefits Brittney Griner if we all just kind of collectively forget if she was taken into custody in an airport and remains there.”
Administration officials said that their public silence shouldn’t be viewed as an indication that they aren’t working behind the scenes and is due to the absence of a Privacy Act waiver that prohibits them from disclosing information about the case.
“While we would enjoy additional coverage, sometimes a lack of coverage suggests things are working in the background,” the Black Caucus spokesperson said. “We’d rather things get done than things get talked about.”
What’s unique about Griner’s case is the reason she was in Russia to begin with.
“I agree one-hundred percent that it’s the WNBA’s fault and the fault of their business model that their top players have to moonlight to earn a fraction of what a subpar NBA player earns,” Solomon said. “They’ve got to work these two jobs and they have for years. So the WNBA has to take some responsibility for the fact that their top players have to play in dangerous places like Turkey, China and Russia.
The WNBA did not respond to a request from Supercreator for comment.
Griner is scheduled to appear in a Russian court on May 19. But Solomon told me he would be unsurprised if it was pushed back because Russia doesn’t have a rule of law as we know it in the US so there’s no one on our side who can hold the Russian judicial system to their timelines.
“They’re going to do what they need to do to maximize the benefit of having Brittney Griner in custody,” he said. “And if the date isn’t pushed back, I think we’re going to see just a very, very, very short hearing that may just confirms what the charges are. Nothing is going to be settled on May 19th.”
Solomon said there’s still reason for optimism.
“As far as we know, she still alive. That’s very encouraging because obviously being in prison in a place where you don’t have a good command of language, there could be a potential for harm to her or self-harm,” he said. “There's no benefit [to Russia] at all in any way for anything to happen to Brittney Griner at the moment.”
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