Updated May 23, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden campaign: Trump "doesn't give a damn" about WSJ reporter detained in Russia

Former President Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2018.

Former President Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2018. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

President Biden's campaign called out former President Trump Thursday for claiming that his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin will secure Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's release "almost immediately after the Election."

Why it matters: Gershkovich has been detained in Russia for over a year without formal charges or a trial after being accused of espionage for reporting on the long-term financial strain on the Russian economy from Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

  • The Department of State considers him wrongfully detained, while President Biden has condemned Russia for his arrest.

State of play: Trump claimed in a 1:30 am ET post that Gershkovich "will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office."

  • Further, he said Putin "will do that for me, but not for anyone else."

The latest: "Donald Trump doesn't give a damn about the innocent Americans unjustly imprisoned by Vladimir Putin," Biden campaign spokesperson TJ Ducklo said in a statement.

  • "Trump has called journalists 'enemies of the people' and pledged to imprison reporters whose coverage he doesn't like – not all that dissimilar to what's happening right now to Evan Gershkovich in Russia," Ducklo continued.
  • He said Gershkovich's release, as well as that of former Marine Paul Whelan, remain an urgent priority for Biden. Whelan, who was accused of spying, has been detained since 2018.
  • Ducklo added that Trump is using the wrongfully imprisoned Americans as "political weapons and props ... for his own gain."

Zoom in: Like his promise to negotiate an end to Russia's invasion of Ukraine within 24 hours if he's elected, Trump's plan to free Gershkovich lacked details.

The other side: After Trump's post, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there has been no contact between Trump and Putin and that "complete silence" is needed "to achieve results" in prisoner swap talks, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Zoom out: If Russia freed Gershkovich unconditionally, it would mark a sea change from how it handled the release of other Americans.

  • Recent prisoner swaps between the U.S. and Russia have ended in Moscow receiving people who organized international criminal rings in order for Washington to secure the release of Americans accused of committing minor infractions.

Case in point: WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested after authorities found a vape cartridge with hash oil in her luggage, was exchanged in December 2022 for the notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is also known as the "Merchant of Death."

Between the lines: Trump has boasted before about a unique relationship he claims to have with Putin.

Yes, but: Though in the past Putin has also boasted of his close relationship with Trump, the Russian president said earlier this year he would prefer that Biden win the 2024 election, calling him a "more experienced, predictable person."

The big picture: In addition to Gershkovich and Whelan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S. dual citizen, is also detained in Russia.

  • Kurmasheva has been in detention for months after being accused of failing to register as a foreign agent.

Go deeper: Speaker Johnson backs call to let Ukraine strike targets in Russia with U.S. weapons

Editor's note: This story was updated with a statement from the Biden campaign.

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