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Brittney Griner Couldn't Call Her Wife Due to U.S. Embassy Mistake

Brittney Griner

The basketball legend and her wife had planned to speak for the first time in months on their wedding anniversary on Saturday. 


WNBA star Brittney Griner, who the Russian government has detained on drug charges, attempted to call her wife almost a dozen times on Saturday but was unable to get through because the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had no staff at the number officials gave her.

Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press about the ordeal in an interview Monday.

Since her wife's arrest in February, they have not spoken, but that was supposed to change for their fourth anniversary this weekend.

The couple had arranged a phone call through the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which the Russian government had approved. Officials gave the detained Griner a number to call at the embassy. She would be patched through to her U.S. wife by someone, according to officials.

However, no call came through to Cherelle Griner in Phoenix on Saturday, who had initially assumed the Russian government was to blame.

Instead, Brittney Griner's lawyer informed her wife Monday that Brittney had called the number 11 times for several hours.

The phone went unanswered each time because the embassy desk wasn't staffed on Saturday, the AP reports.

"I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up," Cherelle Griner said, recounting how she spent an anniversary she had looked forward to in tears instead. "I'm pretty sure I texted BG's agent and was like: 'I don't want to talk to anybody. It's going to take me a minute to get my emotions together, and just tell everybody I'm unavailable right now.' Because it just knocked me out. I wasn't well. I'm still not well."

The two could not speak because of a "logistical error," according to State Department officials. However, the department stressed its commitment to U.S. citizens overseas and said it stays in touch with families of hostages and wrongfully detained Americans.

As a result of the experience, Cherelle Griner has become increasingly frustrated with the government's involvement in the WNBA star's case.

"I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now," she told the news wire. "If I can't trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife's behalf to come home? Because that's a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call."

The number that officials gave Brittney Griner takes prisoner calls Monday through Friday, her wife discovered.

"But mind you," Cherelle Griner said, "this phone call had been scheduled for almost two weeks -- with a weekend date."

In May, the State Department transferred her case to the presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and reclassified Griner as wrongfully detained.

During an exclusive interview with NBC News on Monday, the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, denied the State Department's allegation that Griner is a hostage.

"She violated Russian law, and now she's being prosecuted," Peskov said. "It's not about being a hostage. There are lots of American citizens here. They're enjoying their freedoms ... but you have to obey the laws."

He says she's no different than "hundreds and hundreds of Russian citizens that were sentenced for carrying hashish."

"Why should we make an exemption for a foreign citizen?" he added.

A court in Russia extended Griner's detention for an additional 18 days last week.

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