Republican Lawmakers Work to Bring Home Ex-Marine Imprisoned in Russia

U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed / Getty Images
September 16, 2020

A contingent of lawmakers led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) is working to bring ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who is currently detained in Russia, back to the United States.

A press conference Wednesday afternoon hosted by McCaul, Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas), and Reed's mother detailed the efforts Washington is making to bring Reed home.

"Texas is with you, and America is with you," McCaul told reporters. "We will stand with you in the Congress every day until we can finally bring Trevor home to his family."

Before the press conference, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and 21 members of the Texas delegation to Congress jointly introduced legislation demanding the immediate release of Reed.

Reed has been imprisoned for over a year on charges of assaulting two Russian police officers, though there is little evidence that he actually did so. The Texas resident and ex-Marine was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court in July.

"The American dream was so close for him, and then it was grabbed away one day in Moscow," Reed’s mother Paula Reed said on Wednesday.

The legal team representing Reed and congressional experts alike dispute the veracity of the charges against Reed and the fairness of the legal process, especially as the presiding judge audibly laughed during Reed's hearing.

"The key thing in discussing this case is not that they didn't produce good evidence against him, it's that they didn't produce any evidence against him—none whatsoever," Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Reed, told the Washington Free Beacon. "There’s been no attempt to safeguard his basic human rights. There was so little evidence that you start to wonder why they had the courtroom door open."

One Republican aide told the Free Beacon that Reed’s case could be used for political leverage. "The assumption is that they looked in his wallet, they saw a military ID of some kind insinuating that he had been a former Marine, and that piqued their interest," the aide said. "The prosecution had no evidence. When the judge laughed, part of that was telling the police officers that they had to keep their stories straight."

Conaway, who represents Reed's district, cited the ex-Marine's five years of service and slammed Moscow. "The fact that he’s being held simply because he is a U.S. Marine is a tragedy of justice that should not prevail."

There is some speculation that Reed is being held as political leverage during a low point in relations between the Kremlin and the White House. 

Russia has floated the idea of exchanging Reed for two Russian criminals currently imprisoned in the United States. These criminals are Viktor Bout, an ex-KGB agent with a history of dealing arms to terrorists, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a cocaine smuggler and former Soviet military member serving 20 years in prison.

Instead of moving to release these criminals, Congress opted to pass legislation in the hopes of highlighting Reed’s case. "I hope this sends a strong message to the Putin regime: that America will not stand idly by as Putin and his cronies hold U.S. citizens as political pawns," McCaul said. 

Meanwhile, Reed faces difficult conditions while in prison. With Reed convicted to a nine-year sentence, a Republican aide told the Free Beacon that Reed could be transferred to a hard labor facility deep in Russia, rendering diplomatic access to him more difficult. Russian authorities have limited visits and required correspondence with loved ones to be written in Russian, which Reed only has a rudimentary understanding of.

Even further, waging a legal battle to return Reed home has taken a massive toll on his family. Given the costs of an international legal and diplomatic fight, the family has had to resort to crowdfunding Reed’s defense. Making matters even more difficult, the family fears Reed will never have an opportunity to see his 95-year-old grandmother again.

"The past 396 days have been a nightmare for our family," Paula Reed said on Wednesday. "They have taken a toll on us emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially."

Rep. McCaul and others have been working closely with the State Department to find ways to bring Reed home. Since U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan denounced Reed’s sentencing in July, McCaul and Sullivan have worked with senior members of the State Department and Congress and have brought forth the issue to the president to try to ensure Reed returns safely.

Recent months have seen increasingly belligerent behavior from the Kremlin toward Washington and its allies, such as securing closer relations with China and Iran, harassing American troops in Syria, poisoning Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and attempting to hack American coronavirus vaccine research. 

The Republican aide reminded the Free Beacon of the worsening in Russian-American relations since the diplomatic "reset" during the Obama years and how Reed is only one example of Moscow's bad intentions.

"There is constant behavior that is just reiterating the fact that was made very clear in 2014: that Russia is a bad actor on the world stage," the aide told the Free Beacon. "Trevor Reed is a symptom of that larger truth."

Published under: Russia