WASHINGTON – A phone call between jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner and her wife is being rescheduled after an earlier attempt to connect on the couple’s anniversary failed because of an “unfortunate mistake,” Biden administration officials said Tuesday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the State Department was working to arrange a new call but did not say when that would be. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the call could not be completed because of a “logistical error” that officials have worked quickly to fix so that a new call can take place.
Griner was to have spoken with her wife Cherelle on Saturday, the couple’s fourth anniversary, for the first time since her arrest in Russia in mid-February. The call was to have been routed through the American embassy in Russia, which was to have patched the conversation through.
Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press on Monday that no call ever came. She said she later learned that her wife had tried 11 times to call her through the embassy by dialing a number that she had been given, but that no one picked up because that particular desk was unstaffed on Saturday.
Price said Tuesday that the problem was compounded by staffing limitations at the embassy, including technicians that are located in a third country because of Russian government restrictions placed on the embassy and its operations.
A senior State Department official, speaking earlier on Tuesday said the call was supposed to have gone through the Marine Guard station at the embassy, which is staffed around the clock. but the call was apparently re-routed through a remote location that was unstaffed on Saturday.
“This was an unfortunate mistake,” Jean-Pierre said Tuesday, adding that, “the Department of State is working to rectify this as quickly as possible.”
Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Russian airport on Feb. 17 after authorities there said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
The State Department in May designated her as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator. Russian state-run news agency Tass reported last week that her detention had been extended until July 2.
Jean-Pierre said she had no information about whether President Joe Biden would meet with Cherelle Griner, but said: “The State Department has been in regular touch with Mrs. Griner. She’s also spoken with Secretary (Antony) Blinken. Any American who is held abroad is a priority for this president.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.
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