In the days leading to Brittney Griner’s release, US officials grew increasingly convinced it was no longer a matter of if, but when.
That reality was the driver behind an invitation to Brittney’s wife Cherelle Griner earlier this week to come to the White House early Thursday morning, according to a senior administration official.
The invitation was to meet with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Biden’s top national security official who had briefed Cherelle Griner several times over the course of the nearly 10 months her wife had been detained in Russia. The agenda was an update on a process that was clearly moving toward resolution.
By the time Cherelle Griner arrived at the White House, it was clear Brittney Griner was on the verge of being released. She had been moved from the penal colony where she’d been detained to Moscow. The final deal, one official acknowledged, was clearly in its end game.
As Cherelle Griner waited to meet with Sullivan, however, a change in venue signaled what was about to happen. With no explanation, Griner was led back to the Oval Office, where President Joe Biden was waiting.
Biden delivered the first official confirmation that Brittney Griner was on her way home, something he’d told aides he wanted to do himself. Shortly after, advisers delivered the official notification to Biden and Cherelle Griner: Brittany Griner was secure and in the hands of US officials.
Biden then brought Cherelle Griner to a chair set up next to his at the Resolute Desk. Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sullivan stood nearby.
Brittany Griner was then connected to the room by speaker phone — her first call to her wife since she’d been freed.
“It’s Joe Biden. Welcome, welcome home,” Biden said when the line connected, according to the official. After a short conversation between the three, Biden showed Cherelle to the private dining room, where she was able to continue the call with her wife privately.
Less than an hour later, the two stood side by side down the hall in the Roosevelt Room.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden announced.