- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2023

GOP lawmakers say the Biden State Department is not placing the same urgency to bring home American Marc Fogel, who Russian authorities have imprisoned, that officials put on WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was in a similar situation last year.

Spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas, the letter was sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Although Brittney Griner’s case is nearly identical in certain respects, there is an apparent disparity of treatment between Ms. Griner and Mr. Fogel by the Biden administration, especially when it comes with the apparent urgency with which the department briefs the Hill and reaches key decisions internally,” the letter reads.

It continues, “The State Department has had ample opportunity to consider the designation of Mr. Fogel and communicate with Congress in a classified setting. And yet, virtually nothing of substance has been shared, and Mr. Fogel still languishes in prison.”

The lawmakers say they have “serious and growing concerns” that the State Department has not provided information on why Mr. Fogel, whom Russia has detained for a year and a half, has not been classified as “wrongfully detained” under the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act.

A State Department spokesperson said in a statement to The Washington Times that the Department “continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful.” 

The spokesperson said the Department takes seriously its commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and continues to insist that Russia allow “consistent, timely consular access” to all U.S. citizen detainees. 

“We urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment and appropriate medical care for all U.S. citizens detained in Russia,” the spokesperson said, who declined to comment further “due to privacy concerns.”

The lawmakers say that from what they know of Mr. Fogel‘s case, he may meet six of the 11 established Levinson criteria. The bipartisan legislation passed in June 2020 is named in honor of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, whose unlawful detention by the Iranian regime is recognized as the longest-held hostage situation in American history.

The law bolsters U.S. government resources to bring back Americans held hostage or unlawfully detained abroad. Mr. Levinson is presumed to have died in Iranian custody three years ago.

Ms. Griner was finally released from a Russian jail last December in a prisoner swap for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known internationally as the “Merchant of Death”, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. federal prison.

She was initially sentenced in August to serve nine years following a guilty plea to drug charges. The trouble started when she was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow on Feb. 17, 2022, after Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges with cannabis oil inside her luggage.

Ms. Griner was returning to Russia for a seventh year to play basketball internationally in the country’s Premier League.

Mr. Fogel, a resident of Pennsylvania, taught history courses at schools attended by children of U.S. diplomats in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia and Russia. Upon his return to Moscow in August 2021 to continue his decadelong position at an Anglo-American school, he was detained by authorities at Sheremetyevo with just over half an ounce of medical marijuana that was prescribed to him.

The Republicans wrote that since Mr. Fogel‘s arrest, “numerous members of Congress — both Republican and Democrat — in the House and Senate” brought this issue forward to the State Department and received no necessary details from the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

The lawmakers requested the State Department immediately transmit to Congress copies of all documents, memoranda, advisory legal opinions, notes from meetings, audio recordings and correspondence related to the review of whether Mr. Fogel is “wrongfully detained.”

Mr. McCaul‘s fellow Republican Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, Dan Meuser, Brian Fitzpatrick, Mike Kelly and Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, Brian Mast of Florida, Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma and Marinette Miller-Meeks of Iowa signed on to the letter.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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