Former Secretary of State and currennt Fox News contributor Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the controversial prisoner swap with Russia, in which WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from Russian detention in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, will make it “more likely” for celebrities and other notables to be taken hostage abroad.
Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” anchor Shannon Bream that the Trump administration – in which he served – was careful not to create incentives for U.S. adversaries when negotiating prisoner exchanges.
“The Trump administration was always very clear,” he said. “We weren’t going to trade bad guys for celebrities because it creates the wrong incentives for the bad guys as we go forward. It’s not good for American national security. It’s not good for people who are traveling across the world.”
Pompeo said the Biden administration’s deal with Russia sends the wrong message to America’s enemies, and that people “of notoriety” traveling abroad are less safe today because of it.
“My mission was always to get every American back but at the same time not create the risk that more Americans would be taken in,” he said. “There is no doubt that today not just Vladimir Putin, but all the bad guys, the Iranians, those who hold Americans in detention, see that if you take a celebrity, the chance of getting one of your bad guys back out of American control is greater.”
“I think for people out there of notoriety, it is more likely they will be taken hostage today, and that is not a good policy,” he added.
Pompeo’s comments follow days of speculation and outrage after Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” was released from federal prison in exchange for Griner, while former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains imprisoned at a labor camp in Russia’s Mordovia republic.
The White House has insisted that Russia is treating Whelan differently because he is accused of a more serious charge of espionage, and that the U.S. was given the opportunity to get back Griner, who was detained on drug charges, or no one at all.
National Security Council strategic communications coordinators John Kirby defended the administration earlier on “Fox News Sunday,” saying that Bout, who was convicted in 2011 for conspiracy to kill Americans, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization, was set to be released in 2029 anyway.
“Nobody over at the White House is doing backflips of joy that he is walking the streets, but this was the deal we can get and now is the moment we could get it,” Kirby said. “We’re obviously going to look after our national security going forward and Mr. Boot has choices to make, and if he chooses to get back into that line of work then we’re going to do everything we can to hold them properly accountable as we have in the past.”