- Dennis Rodman said he planned to go to Russia in an attempt to free the WNBA star Brittney Griner.
- A hostage-negotiation expert told Insider it was "a terrible idea for him to go."
- A Biden administration official told Insider Rodman could "complicate and hinder release efforts."
Basketball great and five-time NBA champion Dennis Rodman said he's planning a trip to Russia to help negotiate the release of Brittney Griner, an American WNBA superstar sentenced to nine years in prison for drug smuggling.
At a restaurant in Washington, DC, Rodman told NBC News he "got permission to go to Russia" and felt inclined to assist in the US's efforts to bring Griner home because "I know Putin too well."
But experts — from experienced hostage negotiators to senior officials within President Joe Biden's administration — have said Rodman's proposal is "a terrible idea."
"Dennis has no business being in Russia, just flat out. I don't think a questionably sober [person] is going to be able to negotiate the release of Brittney Griner and, more importantly, there's a plan," Jonathan Franks — a Bring Our Families Home Campaign spokesperson who helped negotiate for the freedom of another wrongfully detained American, Trevor Reed — told Insider.
"She's got the best in government and the best of the private sector" in former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico working to bring her home, he added.
"They're actually doing a decent job working to get her home at the moment," he said. "They've done unprecedented stuff in furtherance of that goal."
He added: "I don't think at this point with a public offer on the table, not that I would've thought this was a good idea under any circumstances, but with a public offer on the table, absolutely not — he should not be going."
Griner was arrested in February when officials at a Moscow airport found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She has since been convicted of the large-scale transportation of drugs with criminal intent, but the US government's "wrongfully detained" classification all but confirmed that the eight-time WNBA All-Star was a political prisoner in the eyes of senior American officials.
CNN reported the Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap with Russia in June. It offered to release the convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the return of both Griner and the retired US Marine Paul Whelan. Since then, the global superpowers have negotiated behind the scenes.
Rodman could put any progress they'd made in jeopardy, a senior Biden administration official told Insider.
"It is public information that the administration has made a significant offer" to the Russians, the official said, adding: "Anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts."
A trip to Russia could also put Rodman and his traveling party in personal danger. The official noted that the US State Department still had a level 4 "do not travel" advisory in place for Russia "due to a number of factors, including the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against US citizens by Russian government security officials," and "the singling out of US citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials."
Rodman has a history of fraternizing with foreign despots — namely, North Korea's Kim Jong Un — which may explain why he feels confident in his ability to broker a deal with Putin. But Franks said negotiating with the Russian president would pose a markedly more difficult challenge than socializing with North Korea's leader.
"It's very different than when he went to DPRK," Franks said, explaining that Rodman "had as good a shot as anyone" of breaking through to the North Korean dictator.
"Kim is a basketball fanatic, and, at the time, I think that trip had intelligence value," he added. "This one does not."
Franks suggested that the Russian president could "use this as a PR stunt for himself and say, 'Look at the famous American that's come to grovel before me!'
"Who knows what Putin will do with him?" Franks said. "Why not? If he's willing to take Brittney Griner, why wouldn't he be willing to take Dennis?"
The senior Biden administration official said all Americans were at risk of detention or "the arbitrary enforcement of local law" in Russia. And if the retired Chicago Bulls forward wound up in Russian custody, the US Embassy would have "limited ability to assist" him.
"Celebrities trying to negotiate hostage situations in hostile foreign countries just makes me a little nervous — more than a little nervous," Franks said, adding: "If they get Dennis and his traveling party, we're going to have to give up more odious Russians" in a prisoner exchange to get them back."
He added: "I wish that people would just stop going to Russia."