The planned trip to Moscow by the former New Mexico governor and diplomat, who privately works on behalf of families of hostages and detainees, comes amid US government efforts to get the two Americans released and as pressure mounts to bring them home quickly.
Both Whelan and Griner are considered wrongfully detained by the US government, and both of their families have been working with the nonprofit Richardson Center.
Mickey Bergman, the executive director of the Richardson Center, told CNN, “we are unable to comment on this, at this time.”
Richardson told CNN on Thursday following Griner’s plea, “We believe that any prisoner in a situation like this needs to do what they believe can help them survive the ordeal.”
“She is fighting for her life,” Richardson said, adding he “is working hard on trying to secure the safe return” of Griner and Whelan from Russia, but declined to give further details due to “ongoing efforts.”
Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested in December 2018 on espionage charges he vehemently denied. He was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials declared as unfair.
Richardson has long worked to free Americans detained abroad, and played a role in securing Trevor Reed’s release from Russian detention in April.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said that working to secure Griner and Whelan’s release, as well as that of Americans wrongfully detained abroad, is a top priority.
CNN’s Chuck Johnston, Anna Chernova, Abby Phillip, Dakin Andone and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.