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John Cornyn renews calls for Joe Biden to help a Texan detained in Russia for more than two years

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn looks away from the camera with a wooden wall behind him.
Allison Shelley
The Texas Tribune
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

Biden is visited the Fort Worth Tuesday afternoon. Cornyn said the Reed family, which lives in Granbury, requested a meeting with the president.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn called on President Joe Biden to meet with the family of Trevor Reed — an American who has been jailed in Russia for more than 900 days — during the president’s trip to Fort Worth on Tuesday afternoon.

The meeting didn't happen, but the Reed family did receive a phone call from the president as he gave a speech in veterans affairs, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Biden was visiting the Fort Worth Veterans Affairs Clinic for an event to call attention to veterans’ concerns about cancer exposure. Cornyn said the Reed family requested a meeting with Biden. Joey and Paula Reed — Trevor Reed’s parents — live in Granbury, which is about a 45-minute drive from the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, where Air Force One will land. They stood roadside holding signs calling attention to their son as Biden's motorcade departed the event.

Soon after, Biden called and apologized for not being able to meet. He said he prayed for Reed, according to the Dallas paper.

“I want you to know my heart aches for you,” Biden reportedly said. “I just can’t imagine what you all are going through.”

“Trevor Reed has been held in a Russian prison with little to no access to badly-needed health care or communication with his family, and his situation is only going to get worse given the political climate in Russia,” Cornyn said in a statement.

“This Administration must do more to free Americans held hostage in Russia,” he added. “President Biden meeting with the Reed family while in Texas on a day he is touting the importance of caring for our veterans would be a welcome start.”

Reed’s family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Trevor Reed’s case has taken on new urgency, given increasing Russian instability after that country’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, Russian officials recently arrestedanother Texan, WNBA star Brittney Griner, on charges of possession of hashish oil in her luggage.

Russian police arrested Reed in August 2019 on questionable charges, according to news reports, American diplomats and Reed’s advocates in Congress.

“Trevor was initially detained for public intoxication, but when the Russian Federal Security Service discovered that he was a U.S. Marine, they upped the charges and accused him of endangering the lives of police officers,” U.S. Rep. August Pfluger of San Angelo told The Texas Tribune last summer. “The accusation, and the lack of evidence to support it, was so ridiculous that even the Russian judge erupted in laughter during his trial.”

Reed traveled to Russia in the summer of 2019 with his Russian girlfriend to learn the language. That August, Russian police arrested him for intoxication and took him to a jail to sober up.

He has since been sentenced to nine years in prison.

Several Texas members besides Cornyn have taken up his cause, including Pfluger, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin and former U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Midland.

“Trevor is a Texan and Marine Veteran being held as a political hostage in Russia,” Pfluger tweeted Tuesday morning. “Texas needs our President to step up.”

Biden addressed Reed’s incarceration in June, after a 2021 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

“I raised the case of two wrongfully imprisoned American citizens: Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed,” he said in Geneva. “The families of the detained Americans, I have hope for … the families of the detained Americans came up and we discussed it.”

Whelan is from Michigan and was arrested in Russia in 2018, accused of spying and sentenced to 17 years. Whelan is also a former Marine; however, he was discharged for bad conduct after being convicted of larceny. He and his family have said he’s not a spy but a tourist who was set up by the government.

“We’re going to follow through with that discussion,” Biden said at the time. “I am not going to walk away on that issue.”

In June, the U.S. House passed a resolution calling for Reed’s release. Last fall, Reed went on a hunger strike in protest of the conditions in which he is being held. More recently, his family has expressed concerns about his potential exposure to tuberculosis.

Abby Livingston joined the Tribune in 2014 as the publication's first Washington Bureau Chief. Previously, she covered political campaigns, House leadership and Congress for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. A seventh-generation Texan, Abby graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. She grew up in Fort Worth and has appeared in an episode of "The Bold and The Beautiful." Abby pitched and produced political segments for CNN and worked as an editor for The Hotline, National Journal’s campaign tipsheet. Abby began her journalism career as a desk assistant at NBC News in Washington, working her way up to the political unit, where she researched stories for Nightly News, the Today Show and Meet the Press. In keeping with the Trib’s great history of hiring softball stars, Abby is a three-time MVP (the most in game history —Ed.) for The Bad News Babes, the women’s press softball team that takes on female members of Congress in the annual Congressional Women’s Softball breast cancer charity game.