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Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow. Photo: Kirill Kudryavutsev/AFP/Getty Images

Axios has obtained a lobbying disclosure form showing President Trump's former Pennsylvania campaign director, David Urban, will be working to free Paul Whelan, an American who has been detained in Russia since December 2018. A source with direct knowledge said Urban will be working pro-bono for Whelan's family.

Why this matters: Russian authorities have accused Whelan of espionage — a charge he denies. Whelan could be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in a Russian jail, according to the New York Times.

  • Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, has described himself as the victim of "an absurd political kidnapping." Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton seemed to echo that sentiment when he tweeted in June that "Russia has provided no evidence of any wrongdoing."
  • Whelan's family is deeply concerned about his health. They are trying to press the Trump administration to prioritize his case in the midst of a diplomatic vacuum following the departure of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman on Oct. 3.

Between the lines: In Urban, the Whelan family now has one of the best-connected advocates in Trumpworld. Urban is a confidant of President Trump's and has longstanding friendships with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Urban, Pompeo and Esper graduated from the same West Point class in 1986 and Trump frequently calls on him for advice.

  • "We're grateful Mr. Urban has volunteered to throw his considerable influence and strategic thinking behind the effort to free Paul," said David Whelan, the brother of Paul Whelan. "His support means a great deal to us and we hope it will spur U.S. officials to further prioritize Paul's release."
  • "Paul is isolated and ill, deprived of any norms of due process and basic human rights. He's done nothing wrong and he should come home now," Whelan added.

Go deeper

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Rahm Emanuel floated for Transportation secretary

Rahm Emanuel. Photo: Joshua Lott for The Washington Post via Getty Images

President-elect Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation, weighing the former Chicago mayor’s experience on infrastructure spending against concerns from progressives over his policing record.

Why it matters: The DOT could effectively become the new Commerce Department, as infrastructure spending, smart cities construction and the rollout of drone-delivery programs take on increasing economic weight.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden turns to experienced hands for White House economic team

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden plans to announce Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese as part of his economic team and Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: These are experienced hands. Unveiling a diverse group of advisers also may draw attention away from a selection of Deese to run the National Economic Council. Some progressives have criticized his work at BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm.

Biden taps former Obama communications director for press secretary

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Jen Psaki, who previously served as Obama's communications director, will serve as President-elect Joe Biden's press secretary, the transition team announced Sunday.

The big picture: All of the top aides in Biden's communication staff will be women, per the Washington Post, which first reported Psaki's appointment.