On Morning Joe: Reporter ‘Sorry’ For Criticizing Biden Negotiating for Griner Swap

News & Politics

Hmm. Now why would a reporter on a liberal network preface his criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the Brittney Griner/Paul Whelan case by stating, “sorry to say it?”

On today’s Morning Joe, senior NBC international correspondent Keir Simmons discussed the potential swap of Griner and Whelan for a Russian arms dealer. Simmons noted the criticism the Russians have made of the way the Biden White House has conducted “loudspeaker” negotiations—making public its offer to trade a Russian arms dealer in return for Griner and Whelan. And Simmons observed in his own right that “publicly negotiating is a very strange way to negotiate.”

Said Simmons:

This is [pauses hesitantly] sorry to say it, I think this is an example of where inside-the-Beltway politics, good, probably smart, from the White House point of view, is not good geopolitics. 

So, clearly the White House felt that they needed to indicate, particularly, I suspect, ahead of the midterms, that they were doing everything they could to try and secure Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan’s release . . . But publicly negotiating is a very strange way to negotiate.”

Keir Simmons MSNBC Morning Joe 8-5-22Simmons thus spoke two truths: not only was the public negotiating by Biden’s White House bad “geopolitics,” it was done for craven reasons: “ahead of the midterms.”

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He added “what the Russians are trying to do here is to embarrass the White House. They, once again, try to show America as being weak. And they will see this as an opportunity to do that by turning around and saying, okay, that’s what you’re offering. But this is what we want. And we’re going to stand firm until we get what we want.”

MSNBC’s Jonathan Lemire tried his best to defend the White House, channeling Biden sources as usual. He agreed that the public posture by the Biden White House was “unusual,” but “it had to be in response. They were getting so much pressure from the rest of the country.”

Sorry, Jonathan, but caving to public pressure is rarely a good way to conduct foreign policy, particularly with a ruthless adversary like Russia. 

This segment was sponsored in part by Sling, Red Lobster, Ring, Sleep Number, Angi, and Xfinity.  

Here’s the transcript.

MSNBC
Morning Joe
8/5/22
6:36 am EDT

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Attention now turns to the potential for a prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow. This morning, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin is ready to talk through an existing back channel after no substantive response to a U.S. offer for Griner’s release made in June. NBC News has previously reported the offer was a swap of Griner, and another American being held in Russia, Paul Whelan, in exchange for imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. 

Joining us now, NBC News senior international correspondent Keir Simmons. Keir, any more word on the potential contours of a deal, and if it’s being taken seriously by the Russians? 

KEIR SIMMONS: Well, Mika, I think the Russians are taking it seriously. But I think what we now have in store is pretty brutal politics, frankly. Now, Sergey Lavrov, as you said, does say that he is ready to talk. What he also said was, he criticized America for what he called public diplomacy. That comes after [Putin press secretary] Dmitri Peskov criticized what he called loudspeaker diplomacy, and the foreign ministry spokeswoman, again, she too criticized the White House for kind of making all of this public. 

I mean, it’s incredibly unusual for the White House to openly, kind of put on the table, the offer they’re making. My prediction is that the Russians will now view that as a starting point. I don’t think that they’re going to be prepared to do a two-for-one deal, if you like:Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan for this arms trafficker. 

I suspect that they are going to look at the deal with Trevor Reed, where a drug trafficker, Konstantin  Yaroshenko, was swapped for Trevor Reed. And they’re going to say, that was one for one. So, we’re going to do one for one now.

And, this is [pauses hesitantly] sorry to say it, I think this is an example of where inside-the-Beltway politics, good, probably smart, from the White House point of view’s inside-the-Beltway politics, is not good geopolitics. 

So, clearly the White House felt that they needed to indicate, particularly, I suspect, ahead of the midterms, that they were doing everything they could to try and secure Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan’s release. But, I mean, publicly negotiating, the Russians are criticizing it. 

Let’s be clear, it is the Russians who are responsible for what’s happening to Brittney Griner. It’s an appalling sentence. But publicly negotiating is a very strange way to negotiate. And by the way, keep in mind, too, that what the Russians are trying to do here is to embarrass the White House. They, once again, try to show America as being weak. And they will see this as an opportunity to do that by turning around and saying, okay, that’s what you’re offering. But this is what we want. And we’re going to stand firm until we get what we want. 

JONATHAN LEMIRE: So, Keir, you’re right, in that the public posture from the White House is unusual, but as [inaudible] told me, it had to be in response. They were getting so much pressure from the rest of the country. They had been silent for the first couple months of her detention, and then of course there was so much push there to do something and, therefore, they are. But you’re right, there’s some concern it may not be successful. 

SIMMONS: It is completely understandable. The politics, the U.S. domestic politics is understandable. 

LEMIRE: Undeniable.

SIMMONS: It just doesn’t make Brittney Griner, I don’t think it helps Brittney Griner’s case, honestly. 

LEMIRE: It may not, exactly right.

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