Brittney Griner is home.
Tell me everything.
Back in August, a Russian court found the two-time Olympic Gold basketball star guilty of drug possession and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. The ruling left her fate in the hands of politicians — amid strained geopolitical tensions between the US and Russia over its war in Ukraine. So President Biden, who called the court’s ruling “unacceptable,” offered Russia a deal: to exchange Griner for Viktor Bout — a convicted international weapons dealer held in the US since 2010. His other alias? The “Merchant of Death.” But for months, it was unclear where negotiations stood. And last month, the White House said it's dealing with a “lack of good faith negotiation” by the Russians.
But it finally worked?
Yup. Yesterday, following negotiations Biden described as “painstaking and intense,” the WNBA star was freed and Bout was returned to Russia. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, celebrated the news alongside Biden and VP Kamala Harris saying it’s “just a happy day.” But says that she and Brittney will remain committed to “getting every American home, including Paul.”
Whelan. The former Marine was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia. Biden says the Kremlin is — for “illegitimate reasons” — treating Paul’s case differently than Griner’s. Espionage charges will do that. But he also says his admin hasn’t “forgotten” and “will never give up” efforts to secure Whelan’s release. Meanwhile, critics like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) say it’s “unconscionable” to leave Whelan behind and that the exchange was a “gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin that “endangers American lives.” Whelan’s brother says they want him home — while celebrating Griner’s release as "the right decision."
Brittney Griner’s return home has been a long time coming — and the culmination of a concerted, grassroots pressure campaign that refused to leave behind one of the WNBA’s biggest stars. But it comes as more than 60 Americans are reportedly still detained in countries abroad — ranging from Russia to Iran to Venezuela.
Where people are mourning…
Iran. Yesterday, state media reported the first known execution of a person involved in the anti-government protests. In September, Mohsen Shekari was accused of blocking a street and attacking a member of the security forces with a machete. He was convicted of “waging war against God” and sentenced to death. The White House condemned the trial as a “sham,” with human rights orgs saying there was no “due process.” Now, following reports that he’s been hanged, Iran is facing backlash from the international community. Meanwhile, over a dozen other protestors are currently facing death sentences. It comes as protests continue following news of Iran backing off of promises to end its controversial morality police.
What’s back to trending…
The Twitter Files. Yesterday, independent journalist Bari Weiss kicked off part two of the Twitter Files through a series of tweets. This time, it included screenshots of conservative accounts that Twitter allegedly placed on “blacklists.” According to the tweets, company leadership had created hidden tags that limited certain accounts’ visibility or prevented their tweets from trending. Those accounts included conservative activist Charlie Kirk and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who criticized COVID lockdowns. Conservatives have long raised concerns about “shadow banning,” but Twitter has rejected their claims. Now, Musk says the company is “working on a software update” to let users know if they’ve been “shadow banned” and why.
Where it may be game over...
Microsoft. Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission sued to block Microsoft’s plans to buy video game publisher Activision Blizzard. Microsoft’s proposed $69 billion deal would be one of the largest acquisitions in the last six years and give it ownership over games like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft. But the FTC argues it’d be too big. It says the deal could “harm competition” and customers by bumping prices, lowering quality, and withholding content from rivals. One of the reasons: it’s still unclear if Microsoft will make Activision’s popular games exclusive to Xbox (which it owns). But Microsoft says the deal would “expand competition” and “create more opportunities” for gamers and developers. How exactly? It didn’t say. But here's hoping things don't get out of control.
What’s got DC talking…
The Washington Commanders. Yesterday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released a report on its “damning” investigation into the NFL team. The year-long investigation found that employees were subjected to a “toxic work culture” — including sexual harassment and bullying — under the decades-long leadership of Dan Snyder. The report also found that the franchise owner allegedly interfered in (what later became) an NFL investigation into harassment claims. That includes Snyder allegedly “intimidating witnesses” and blocking access to docs. The report says that the NFL was aware of Snyder’s interference, but didn’t do much to stop it. Now, the Committee’s saying the report should be a “wake-up call” and that covering up misconduct will no longer pass.
...Oh and speaking of people under investigation: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Earlier this week, the bipartisan House Ethics Committee said it’s investigating AOC. It didn’t say what it’s investigating but said it will give more answers during Congress’s next term in January. A rep for AOC says she’s “always taken ethics incredibly seriously” and is “confident” the matter will be dismissed.
Where Something may or may not be up…
Something Navy. Yesterday, Business Insider published an article on influencer Arielle Charnas’s fashion company, finding that it isn’t doing so hot, with bad sales, mass employee exits, and suppliers who allegedly aren’t being paid. It comes as reps earlier in the week denied Charnas’s husband is embezzling from the company...among other rumors.
…Oh and speaking of stories the public can’t get enough of: “Harry & Meghan.” The first three eps of their docuseries are out — covering everything from their love story with each other to their exact opposite of a love story with the press. Stay tuned next week for part 2.
Who could be facing the music...
Nick Carter. Yesterday, the Backstreet Boys singer was accused of raping a 17-year-old girl after a concert in 2001. Shannon “Shay” Ruth, an autistic woman living with cerebral palsy, filed a lawsuit alleging that Carter infected her with HPV and said she'd go to jail if she told anyone. A lawyer for Carter — who was 21 at the time — called the accusations "entirely untrue" and expects the courts "will quickly realize" it. Meanwhile, the news was apparently enough for ABC to drop next week's Backstreet Boys holiday special from airing.
Who we’re sending good wishes to…
What you shouldn't sleep on...
Jhené Aiko's new album.
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