The White House on Friday said the State Department is working to get a counselor to the Wall Street Journal reporter who was detained in Russia this week on espionage charges, sparking a furious reaction in the U.S.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said getting help to Evan Gershkovich, a veteran journalist who speaks fluent Russian, is a “priority” for President Biden, the White House National Security Council and the State Department.
“I wish I had breakthrough news, a breakthrough update, for all of you. I just do not,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One. “The State Department is working very hard to get a counselor, as I mentioned yesterday, to Evan, which is something that we do for all Americans that are detained.”
She declined to say how long it would take for the State Department to determine whether Mr. Gershkovich is unlawfully detained, or if that process would move fast, given tensions between the West and Russia.
The 31-year-old American was taken into custody Wednesday by Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, in the city of Yekaterinburg.
He was filing stories from Russia as recently as this week, but Russian officials said he was using his credentials as a journalist for “activities that have nothing to do with journalism” and had acted on direct orders from the U.S. government. The Journal vehemently denied the charges in a statement Thursday.
The White House condemned the arrest as an attack on the free press. Mr. Gershkovich’s most recent piece highlighted the sweeping effects that Western sanctions have had on the Russian economy, raising the question of whether Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the detention to silence such critical coverage.
U.S. officials are worried that Russia views American detainees as diplomatic pawns amid tension over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Putin appeared to employ that tactic last year while detaining U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner and releasing her only after the Biden administration agreed to free notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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