Sources Reveal Why Trump Turned Down Paul Whelan, Viktor Bout Prisoner Swap


(Washington Examiner) Former President Donald Trump opposed exchanging several American prisoners for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, including a one-for-one swap for Paul Whelan, an American Marine whom the U.S. also considers wrongfully detained, according to multiple sources.

But “all of them involved giving up Victor Bout, so we wouldn’t do it,” a former administration official told the Washington Examiner.


In a high-profile deal made public Thursday, Bout was released in exchange for WNBA superstar Brittney Griner after serving less than half his sentence. Whelan has spent nearly four years in Russian detention after he was convicted on espionage charges. A prisoner swap that freed American Trevor Reed earlier this year also left Whelan behind.

Justice Department officials have long opposed Bout’s release. Known as the “Merchant of Death,” the Russian prisoner was serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. for conspiring to kill Americans. His life inspired a 2005 film, “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage.

Trump confirmed he had “turned down a deal with Russia for a one on one swap of the so-called Merchant of Death for Paul Whelan,” writing in a Truth Social post that he “wouldn’t have made the deal for a hundred people.”

“I would have gotten Paul out, however, just as I did with a record number of other hostages,” the former president said.

A former senior Trump official disputed the characterization that Russia had ever outright proposed a Bout-for-Whelan swap during hostage negotiations, saying that Moscow knew Trump would never accept a deal to release Bout. Still, the official said releasing Bout was a top priority for Russia.

Instead, the Trump White House reached a deal with Moscow to resume arms control talks and negotiations on cyber policy and U.S. investment, with the offer to free Whelan and former Marine Trevor Reed as a goodwill gesture. That arrangement fell apart after Trump lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden.

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