The top US hostage affairs official on Sunday reflected on conducting the prisoner swap that led to Brittney Griner’s release, saying the WNBA star immediately thanked the crew returning her to the United States.
“When she finally got on to the US plane, I said, ‘Brittney, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We’ll give you your space,’” Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
“And she said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk. But first of all, who are these guys?’ And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing,” Carstens recalled. “And then later on, on an 18-hour flight, she probably spent 12 hours just talking and we talked about everything under the sun.”
Carstens, who led the mission to the UAE, provided CNN with new details about Griner’s trip home. Griner, who he described as “an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person — but above all, authentic,” seemed healthy and full of energy during the trip.
She was given a sense, he said, that she would be going home that day, and it felt real the moment he was able to board the other plane and tell her that “on behalf of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, I’m here to take you home.”
“At that point, we have to go through a little more of the choreography to get her on the plane, it usually takes about three minutes,” Carstens said.
While he said Griner talked about her ordeal during the trip, he declined to elaborate on the details.
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