Trump for the first time calls for release of WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained for over a year

Former President Donald Trump, in an interview published Tuesday, called for the first time for Russia to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained for more than a year.

“The reporter should be released and he will be released,” Trump told Time magazine when asked about Gershkovich. “I don’t know if he’s going to be released under (President Joe) Biden. I would get him released.”

Gershkovich has been detained in Russia since March 2023 on an espionage charge that the Journal and US authorities have said is baseless. Trump, who has famously been reluctant to criticize the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said his previous public silence on Gershkovich was “because I have so many other things I’m working on.”

The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023. Gershkovich is the first journalist to be arrested on such charges since the Cold War, and the Russian government has yet to provide any evidence to support its claim. In the year since, the 32-year-old journalist has been imprisoned in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison.

In contrast with Trump, the Biden administration’s condemnation over Gershkovich’s detainment has been swift. Biden called for Russia to “let him go” almost immediately after he was arrested and mentioned him over the weekend during remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, saying, “we are doing everything we can.” Last year, the US State Department officially declared Gershkovich wrongfully detained by Russia. “Journalism is not a crime. We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth,” the department said at the time.

In marking a year since Gershkovich’s detention, the Journal’s editorial board wrote last month, “Members of both political parties have condemned his imprisonment, often in bipartisan statements like those by Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. A notable exception, unless we missed it, is Donald Trump. Why the silence, sir?”

The Biden administration’s efforts to secure Gershkovich’s release have not yet yielded results. Last year, the White House offered to trade a large number of Russian nationals detained on espionage charges abroad in exchange for the release of Gershkovich and fellow American Paul Whelan, two people familiar with the matter previously told CNN, but the offer was not accepted.

In response to Trump’s comments on Tuesday, the White House reiterated its call for Gershkovich to be released immediately.

“President Biden has brought over 60 Americans home, many of whom were wrongfully detained or taken hostage before he was sworn in. President Biden has worked ceaselessly for Evan’s freedom since he was unjustifiably imprisoned by Putin, as well as for the freedom of fellow American Paul Whelan, who has now spent five years in a Russia prison,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement to CNN. “Like the president said on Saturday when he repeated his call for Evan’s immediate release, ‘journalism is not a crime’ and reporters are not ‘enemies of the people’ but, instead, critical to democracy. President Biden welcomes this new support for bringing Evan back from Russia, and he will continue to demand both Evan and Paul’s release.”

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

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