CNN reports that US officials have met with Paul Whelan, five days after he was arrested on charges of espionage in Russia. Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, told CNN that Whelan was visited by US consular representatives on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the State Department, consular officials can regularly visit Americans detained abroad, check on the individual’s medical condition and care being provided, provide a list of local English speaking attorneys, inform the individual of resources that may be useful, and contact family on behalf of the detained person.
FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, announced the Michigan native’s arrest but gave no details of his arrest beyond saying Whelan was caught carrying out an act of espionage.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters this morning at a press conference in Brazil, “We are hopeful within the next hours we’ll get consular access to see him and get a chance to learn more. We’ve made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he’s been accused of and if the detention is not appropriate we will demand his immediate return.”
Whelan’s military records were released today by the Marine Corps and reveal that man who had risen to the rank of staff sergeant was convicted of larceny charges in a court-martial in 2008 and given a bad-conduct discharge as a private. The exact details of the larceny charges have not been released, according to the Washington Post.
Mr. Whelan’s family stands by him and professes his innocence, saying his arrest must be a mistake. His twin brother David, an attorney in Canada, told the Detroit Free Press that his brother, a former police officer in addition to being a retired Marine, is “a very kind person. He’s very generous with his time; he’s funny. He’s a gregarious sort of person.” He says Paul was fond of Flora, the Whelan family’s dog, and never married or had children.
David tweeted about his sibling being detained by Russia on Tuesday.
David also told the Free Press that he believes his brother isn’t a spy and “just can’t see him breaking laws in America, let alone going to a country that might be more difficult to navigate if he broke the law, and certainly not breaking a law of espionage.”
Mr. Whelan faces 20 years in prison if found guilty of espionage in Russia. His arrest comes just 2 weeks after the Russia gun advocate accused of infiltrating the NRA, Maria Butina, pleaded guilty to being a foreign agent and agreed to cooperate with the US government.
David Whelan noted that he is aware of speculation that Paul’s arrest could be a play to trade him for Butina but says, “I think sometimes the geopolitical spectrum is a lot more complicated than that sort of trade-off. That could be what it was, but we’re trying not to focus on what the explanation might be, and are just trying to get him home.”