WASHINGTON — A phone call between the imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner and his wife, Cherelle Griner were rescheduled after an earlier attempt to connect on the couple’s anniversary failed due to an “unfortunate mistake,” Biden administration officials said Tuesday.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said last weekend’s original call could not be completed due to a “logistical error” that officials worked quickly to fix so a new call could take place. The State Department and the White House did not offer a date for the rescheduled call.
“It was a mistake. It’s a mistake that we’ve worked to rectify,” Price told reporters Tuesday. “The call has been rescheduled and will take place in a relatively short period of time.”
Griner was due to speak to his wife Cherelle on Saturday, the couple’s fourth anniversary, for the first time since his arrest in Russia in mid-February. The call was supposed to have been routed through the American embassy in Russia, which was supposed to have connected the conversation.
But Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press on Monday that she never received any calls, even though they had been approved by the Russian government and had been scheduled for about two weeks.
He said that while he was initially concerned that Russian authorities had foiled the call, he later learned that his wife had tried to call her 11 times by dialing a US embassy number given to her, but no one answered the call. line on Saturday.
Price said Tuesday that the department deeply regretted the error, which he said was compounded by staffing limitations at the embassy, including technicians who are based in a third country due to Russian government restrictions placed on the embassy and its operations.
A senior State Department official, speaking earlier Tuesday, said the call was supposed to have gone through the embassy’s Marine Guard station, which is staffed 24 hours a day, but the call was apparently routed through from a remote location that was unstaffed on Saturday.
“It was an unfortunate mistake,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
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 February 17 after authorities said a search of her bag revealed cartridges of vaporizer containing cannabis oil.
In May, the State Department designated her as wrongfully detained and placed her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s top hostage negotiator. The Russian state news agency Tass reported last week that her detention had been extended until July 2.
Jean-Pierre said he had no information on whether President Joe Biden would meet with Cherelle Griner, but said: “The State Department has been in regular contact with Mrs. Griner. She has also spoken with Secretary [Antony] Blinken. Any American who is detained abroad is a priority for this president.”
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White House: Griner and wife will speak after ‘mistake’ call