August 4, 2022 Brittney Griner verdict and Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Ivana Kottasová and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:33 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022
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1:22 p.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Griner sentencing is a "miscarriage of justice," Charge d'Affaires of the US embassy in Russia says

From CNN's Jorge Engels

WNBA star Brittney Griner’s sentencing by a Russian court to nine years in prison with a fine of 1 million rubles, which is about $16,400 USD, “for nothing more than an unintentional oversight” is a “miscarriage of justice,” Charge d'Affaires of the US embassy in Russia Elizabeth Rood said Wednesday outside the court in Khimki, near Moscow.

“The US Department of State has determined that miss Griner is wrongfully detained. Nothing in today’s decision changes that determination,” Rood said.

Rood, who attended every session of Griner’s trial, said she will continue to be closely engaged and will remain in frequent contact with Griner and her lawyers.

“Secretary of State Blinken, President Biden’s national security team, and the entire American government remain committed to bringing miss Griner home safely to her family, friends and loved ones,” Rood added.

Rood said she had “no higher priority” than the safety and wellbeing of Griner and other US citizens detained in Russia.

1:55 p.m. ET, August 4, 2022

"Praying so hard": Sports world reacts to Brittney Griner guilty verdict

From CNN's David Close and Homero DeLaFuente

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a joint statement following a Russian court sentencing basketball player Brittney Griner to nine years of jail time, saying they are still hoping for her safe return.

“Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained. The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States," the statement said.

Brittney Griner's WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, released the following statement on Thursday:

“While we knew it was never the legal process that was going to bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister, BG. We remain heartbroken for her, as we have every day for nearly six months. We remain grateful to and confident in the public servants working every day to return her to her family and us. We remain faithful the Administration will do what it takes to end her wrongful detention. We are inspired every day by BG’s strength and we are steadfastly committed to keeping her top-of-mind publicly until she is safely back on American soil. We will not allow her to be forgotten. We are BG.”

Other WNBA players and coaches in the sports world are also reacting, tweeting their support.

University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said in a tweet, "#FreeBrittneyGriner we will not stop advocating for you release. Hold on to God unchanging hand. We love you, BG!"

Connecticut Sun guard Dijonai Carrington said, "praying so hard for BG man."

Others, including Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson and University of Connecticut guard Paige Bueckers, tweeted "Free BG," standing for Brittney Griner.

1:40 p.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Griner should be immediately released, US National Security Council's Kirby says

From CNN's Betsy Klein, Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood

John Kirby speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 2.
John Kirby speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 2. (Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

US National Security Council Director for Strategic Communications John Kirby echoed President Joe Biden’s comments Thursday, calling for Brittney Griner's immediate release.

“This sentence, this trial just reaffirms what we have been saying all along: Brittney has been wrongfully detained and she needs to be immediately released by Russian authorities so she can be home with her wife, her teammates, and her friends and family and the President is going to stay 100% committed to achieving that outcome,” Kirby said during an appearance on MSNBC. 

He pointed to the United States' “serious proposal” for a prisoner swap with the Russians. 

“We urge the Russians, again, to seriously consider that proposal, to act on it. And let’s get these two Americans home where they belong,” Kirby said, later calling their counteroffer a “bad faith attempt … just to cloud up the waters, make things muddy, and to avoid having to make what is a consequential and serious decision.” 

Although Kirby indicated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would “buttonhole” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the proposal while they are both in Cambodia, a senior State Department official said the two diplomats did not speak while they both attended a dinner at the ASEAN meetings Thursday.

State Department officials have repeatedly said there are no plans for Blinken to meet with his Russian counterpart, with whom he spoke by phone last Friday.

And following the sentencing, Kirby said that the US would push for consular access to Griner. 

“We're going to continue to insist — as we must — to have consular access to Mrs. Griner so that we can make sure we can keep that communication going and we can make sure that we can continue to make sure that she's being well treated,” he said. 

1:36 p.m. ET, August 4, 2022

US secretary of state condemns Griner's sentence

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media on August 1, in New York City.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media on August 1, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Brittney Griner’s nine-year sentence, saying it “further compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention” and “puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns.” 

“Nothing about today’s decision changes our determination that Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, and we will continue working to bring Brittney and fellow wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan home,” Blinken said in a statement Thursday. “This is an absolute priority of mine and the Department's.”

Blinken said the US would “also continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia.”

11:40 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Brittney Griner's defense team says they will appeal verdict

From CNN's Chris Liakos

The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision.

“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” they said in the statement.

“This contradicts the existing legal practice. Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal,” they added.

Blagovolina is a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm.

1:32 p.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Biden issues statement on Griner sentence, calling it "unacceptable"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Joe Biden gives remarks during a meeting on July 28, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden gives remarks during a meeting on July 28, in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden reacted Thursday to a Russian court finding WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling, calling her sentence of nine years in prison “unacceptable.”

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.

He continued: “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.” 

The Russian court said that Griner committed the crime deliberately and sentenced her to nine years of jail time and a fine of 1 million rubles (roughly $16,400). Griner was arrested with less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on Feb. 17, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The sentencing came as CNN has reported that the US has made a “substantial offer” with Russia of a proposed prisoner swap for Griner and Paul Whelan with convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

11:34 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

"Ball is in Russia's court" still on Griner negotiations, US official says

From CNN's MJ Lee

After a Russian court found Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced her to 9 years of jail time, US officials say that they believe the state of play on trying to get Griner out of Russia remains the same for now.

The US made what the administration has described as a “substantial offer” to Russia to exchange both Griner and Paul Whelan for convicted Russian arms trafficker Victor Bout. The administration will continue to try to move forward on those negotiations and press Russia to accept that offer, officials said Thursday. 

But, as one official pointed out, this process expected to continue to take some time — and it is ultimately up to Russia how quickly it wants to move. 

“The ball is in Russia’s court” right now, one official said. 
11:31 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years of jail time

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants' cage before the court's verdict in Khimki, Russia on August 4.
Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants' cage before the court's verdict in Khimki, Russia on August 4. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/Reuters)

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced by a Russian court to 9 years of jail time with a fine of 1 million rubles (roughly $16,400), Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court said Thursday. 

The court said it took into account her partial admission of guilt, remorse for the deed, state of health and charitable activities.

Griner was found guilty of drug smuggling, a crime the judge said she committed deliberately. Griner was arrested with less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on Feb. 17. 

She said it was “an honest mistake” due to packing in a hurry. 

Her lawyers argued that if Griner ever used medical marijuana, it was only at home back in Arizona, where it is legal, very rarely, in the short periods between competitions and on vacation, only on the prescription of a doctor for her severe pain from sports injuries.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist apologized in her final statement in court Thursday and asked for the court’s leniency, explaining that she had no intent to break any Russian laws.

11:07 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Russian court finds WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent

Brittney Griner is escorted to the courtroom to hear the court's final decision in Khimki, Russia, on August 4.
Brittney Griner is escorted to the courtroom to hear the court's final decision in Khimki, Russia, on August 4. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

A Russian court has found Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent.

The judge at Khimki court in the Moscow region is still reading out the verdict. The judge is now going through the facts of the case, the witnesses called and their testimonies.

Some background: The 31-year-old Olympic gold medalist was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said in the Khimki city courthouse on Thursday. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom."

"I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws," she said.

She pleaded guilty to drug charges last month in what her lawyers say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency.

In closing arguments Thursday, a prosecutor asked for 9.5 years of jail time for Griner, according to defense lawyer Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm.

Blagovolina argued that Griner never used marijuana in Russia and that she never had the intention of doing so. She had no need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added.