According to a statement posted by Reed’s family on a website they made to draw attention to his case, Reed was initially charged on the night of August 15 with a minor violation of failing to properly register at his Russian girlfriend’s apartment, which Reed admitted to by signing a Russian-language document without an interpreter present, according to his family. Reed spent the night in jail, but when his girlfriend went to pick him up from the station the next day as instructed, she found him being interviewed by Russia’s security services, the FSB, the family says.
The document acknowledging the registration violation was later used to deny Reed bail, his family says, after he was ultimately charged with “the use of violence dangerous to the life and health against a government official in the performance of their duties,” which carries a 10-year maximum sentence. He is accused of grabbing a police officer’s arm and causing the car they were in to swerve, and was denied bail following a months-long court battle to secure his pretrial release.
Reed’s family has compared his case to that of Whelan, who was detained in December 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison on Monday. The State Department has called for Whelan’s immediate release, citing the lack of a fair and open trial. President Donald Trump has not weighed in publicly, and there are no signs he’s raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on Monday that he is “outraged by the decision today to convict Paul Whelan on the basis of a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses. Paul’s treatment by Russian authorities continues to be appalling, and we demand his immediate release.”
Joey Reed said on Monday that he had gone to hear the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, speak outside the Moscow courthouse following Whelan’s sentencing. “This secret trial in which no evidence was produced is an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms,” Sullivan told a crowd outside the courthouse. Sullivan told reporters on an April 22 call that Whelan “is foremost in my thoughts everyday as I continue my service as Ambassador, along with other Americans who have been detained – Michael Calvey and Trevor Reed.”
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow did not respond to a request for comment on Reed’s case, but his family says the embassy has been involved, visiting him when possible in jail and coordinating with his Russian defense lawyers. But they claimed on June 1 that the embassy’s access to Reed and his medical status had effectively been cut off.
It’s unclear when Reed’s trial will resume—it’s been delayed five times, ostensibly due to logistical issues stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. His trial is tentatively scheduled to resume on June 30 if the jail will release him to attend court, said his father, who has been living in Moscow for months as his son’s case continues.
While he’s hoping for sustained attention on the case by the U.S. government, Whelan’s ordeal does not inspire much hope—Whelan’s family met with high-level White House officials last summer to discuss his case, including then-national security adviser John Bolton and then-senior Russia adviser Fiona Hill, where they received “assurances that the U.S. government was engaged at many levels in Paul’s false arrest and wrongful imprisonment,” they said in a statement at the time.
Bolton and Hill have since left the White House, and Trump, who has taken pains to maintain a good personal relationship with Putin, has shown no signs of wanting to get involved. Michigan Senator Gary Peters, who represents Whelan, called on Trump in September to task his current national security adviser Robert O’Brien—who previously served as special presidential envoy for hostage affairs—with securing Whelan’s release.
So far, Peters’ office has not received any indication that O’Brien has been involved in Whelan’s case.
“Senator Peters believes there needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach to free Paul, who the Russian government is using as a political prisoner,” said a Peters spokesperson. “Senator Peters believes the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and the White House need to become more involved in securing Paul’s release. Russian authorities have presented no credible evidence against Paul, and it’s time for him to come home to his family in Michigan.”
Whelan remained in detention even after Russian national Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to foreign agent violations and spent 15 months in jail, was released and deported back to Russia in October. National security experts had suspected that Russia was holding Whelan as leverage and angling for a prisoner swap with Butina, but no such exchange ever materialized.
On Monday, Whelan’s brother indicated that the family had seen no real action by the U.S. government in Paul’s case.
“Now that the conviction has happened, we really don’t see any reason now for, or any excuse for, a lack of action or lack of request or interaction by the US government,” he told CNN.