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Ted Cruz calls Brittney Griner’s sentence ‘abuse of power’ but stays mum on prisoner swap

‘It is wrong ... an unjust detention,’ GOP senator says in interview at CPAC about the Olympic basketball gold medalist from Houston.

Brittney Griner’s nine-year sentence in a Russian prison is an “abuse of power,” Sen. Ted Cruz said in Dallas on Friday — but he declined to say whether a prisoner swap is the best way to bring the WNBA player and native Texan home.

“It is wrong,” Cruz told The Dallas Morning News during a brief interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “It is an abuse of power. It is Vladimir Putin targeting an American. It is an unjust detention, and Brittney Griner should be free.”

Cruz, who along with Sen. John Cornyn supported a Senate resolution which described Griner as wrongfully detained, called on President Joe Biden’s administration “to use the leverage they have to free her from this abusive prosecution by the Russian government.”

The statements were the first public comments Cruz made about Griner since she was convicted and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on drug charges. President Joe Biden denounced the verdict and sentence as “unacceptable” and called on Russia to immediately free Griner, who was born and raised in Houston.

The conviction also sets up the potential for high-stakes negotiations between the Russian and American governments. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the United States has proposed a trade involving Griner and Paul Whelan, another American held by Russia, in exchange for Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout.

Cruz declined to comment on the proposed trade Friday, citing the sensitivity of the negotiations.

“The dynamic of hostage negotiations are always complicated, so I don’t want to negotiate them in public,” he said. “But I believe Brittney Griner needs to come home and come home to Texas.”

The Russian government has warned that any negotiations should be discussed privately.

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