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State Department makes clear stance on Dennis Rodman’s Russia travel

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NBA legend Dennis Rodman made waves over the weekend when he revealed his plans to go to Russia to advocate for the release of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner who was sentenced to nine years in prison after she was convicted of drug charges.

Rodman told NBC News over the weekend he “got permission” to travel to Russia to “help that girl.” He didn’t elaborate on who gave him the green light to travel to Russia.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about Rodman’s travel plans.

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Dennis Rodman reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 20, 2022.
(Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

“Well, we have seen through the media, and really only through the media, that Dennis Rodman has said he does intend to travel to Russia. He — I want to be clear, he is — he would not be traveling on behalf of the U.S. government,” Price said.

“I have just reiterated what we’ve said now for the past several weeks. We put forward a substantial proposal to Russia to seek the freedom of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. We believe that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder those release efforts. We’ve also provided very clear guidance to American citizens owing to a number of threats, not the least of which is the threat of wrongful detention, that Americans should not travel to Russia. That has been our message to private Americans across the board.”

The State Department has a Level 4 travel advisory to warn Americans about traveling to Russia.

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WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki, near Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki, near Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

“Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of U.S. citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19-related restrictions, and terrorism,” the warning reads. “U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart Russia immediately. Exercise increased caution due to wrongful detentions.”

Price said last week the agency still classified Griner as being “wrongfully detained.” He was asked about Griner and the potential of a prisoner swap with Russia, which may involve convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout and another American held in Russia, Paul Whelan.

“No element of this trial changes our judgment that Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained and should be released immediately,” Price said. “That is why we've put forward a number of weeks ago what we consider to be a serious, substantial proposal and an effort to seek her release, to seek the release of Paul Whelan as well.

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“We are in communication with the Russians on this matter, and we encourage them to pursue this constructively.”

Griner’s lawyers in Russia appealed her conviction. She was arrested for bringing vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis through a Moscow airport in February. She was convicted and received her sentence on Aug. 4.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner drinks water as she listens to the verdict in a cage in a courtroom in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner drinks water as she listens to the verdict in a cage in a courtroom in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

Rodman has a history of interacting with world leaders.

Rodman met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in 2013 and was among the first Americans to meet him. The former Chicago Bulls star addressed a letter to Kim in January 2014, and about 10 months later captured American Kenneth Bae was released, according to TMZ Sports. Rodman had appeared in the country a few times since Bae’s release.

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In 2014, Rodman described Putin as “cool” in an interview on FOX Business. He said he wasn’t talking about Putin’s politics. He said Putin shook his hand and left during his interaction with him in a trip to Russia.

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