WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump shot down Russian attempts to trade former Marine Paul Whelan for “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout, former national security adviser John Bolton said Thursday — as Trump ripped his successor for agreeing to send Bout home in exchange for the return of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Bolton recalled in an interview with CBS that he was in the midst of his 17-month tenure at the White House when Whelan was detained on concocted espionage charges in December 2018.

“The possibility of a Bout-for-Whelan trade existed back then,” said Bolton, 74, “and it wasn’t made, for very good reasons having to deal with Viktor Bout.”

Whelan was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison. US officials claimed Thursday that the Biden administration tried to secure the release of both Whelan and Griner, but Moscow refused to budge — insisting on a one-for-one swap of Griner for Bout.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of very understandable human emotion here in getting Griner released, but this is a very bad mistake by the Biden administration,” Bolton told CBS of the decision to swap Bout — convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans by supplying a Columbian terrorist group with weapons — in exchange for a basketball player jailed for bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia.

Viktor Bout is seen on a plane ahead of departing for Russia on Dec. 8, 2022.
Viktor Bout was convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans by supplying a terrorist group with weapons.

“This is not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender,” Bolton added. “And terrorists and rogue states all around the world will take note of this, and it endangers other Americans in the future who can be grabbed and used as bargaining chips by people who don’t have the same morals and scruples that we do.

“There are occasions when you swap spies. Obviously, there are legitimate exchanges of prisoners of war,” he continued. “But this doesn’t even approximate that. The idea that somehow what Brittney Griner did — very foolishly, in my estimate — but that whatever she did compares to Viktor Bout is something that shows just how desperate the administration was to make this deal. And I’m just very worried about the effect it has and the danger that it can put many other Americans in, all around the world.”

Brittney Griner is seen at Women's Penal Colony No 2.
Brittney Griner while at Women’s Penal Colony No. 2. She has now been freed from her prison sentence.
Fsb/TASS via ZUMA Press

Trump, 76, also questioned Biden’s decision to “one of the biggest arms dealers anywhere in the world” in a Truth Social post Thursday, claiming Bout was “responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and horrific injuries.”

“Why wasn’t former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking,” the former president said. “What a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!”

Bolton agreed, calling the deal “a huge victory for Moscow over Washington.”

John Bolton speaks to reporters after speaking in a panel hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran – U.S. Representative Office (NCRI-US) at the Willard InterContinental Hotel on Aug. 17, 2022 in Washington, DC.
John Bolton believes the prisoner swap is a “huge victory for Moscow.”
Getty Images

“It’s the kind of thing that says to terrorists and rogue states and other malign actors who would consider kidnapping or seizing Americans, that we’re willing to trade almost anything to get Americans back,” he said. “There are other ways to deal with hostage-takers through sanctions and other things, not swaps like this one.”

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