ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) — President Joe Biden spoke to the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the Moscow-based journalist was detained in Russia and charged with espionage.
Biden made the call as he flew to Belfast to start a four-day trip to Northern Ireland and Ireland. The call happened one day after the Biden administration formally declared the reporter had been “wrongfully detained."
The designation elevates Gershkovich's case for the U.S. government and means that a particular State Department office will take the lead on seeking his release.
Before departing Washington on Tuesday, Biden again condemned the journalist's detention. Both the U.S. government and Wall Street Journal have vehemently denied the Russian accusation that Gershkovich is a spy.
“We’re making it real clear that it’s totally illegal what’s happening, and we declared it so," Biden said. “It changes the dynamic.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters after the call that Biden “felt it was really important to connect with Evan’s family, his parents,” She said that Gershkovich, 31, has been "top of mind” for the president.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the Russian government has yet to grant U.S. consular access to Gershkovich.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” Kirby said, adding that the State Department has been seeking access "ever since the moment we found out that he was detained.”
Russian authorities arrested Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, on March 29. He is the first U.S. correspondent since the Cold War to be detained for alleged spying.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed reporting.
Colleen Long, The Associated Press