985 Days: The Trevor Reed Interview

Just weeks after his release, former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed speaks to ABC News' Patrick Reevell about his struggle to be freed from Russian detention and the ongoing efforts to free other Americans.
25:13 | 05/24/22

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Transcript for 985 Days: The Trevor Reed Interview
LINSEY DAVIS: Trevor Reed never thought he'd spend more than a single night behind bars. He spent 985. MARTHA RADDATZ: A homecoming 985 days in the making-- former US Marine Trevor Reed back on US soil. REPORTER: His parents watching the dramatic prisoner swap that set him free. LINSEY DAVIS: Tonight, American Trevor Reed is safe. REPORTER: The nightmare of his captivity in Russia is finally over. LINSEY DAVIS: What happened to this former Marine? Did Reed think he'd ever get out? What about the other Americans facing similar ordeals, who are still fighting for their freedom? PATRICK REEVELL: Hi. TREVOR REED: How are you doing, sir? - Hi. It's amazing to see you. - Yeah. - It's amazing to see you. It really is. LINSEY DAVIS: Trevor first met ABC reporter Patrick Reevell during his Moscow trial. PATRICK REEVELL: This is the first time that we've sat across from each other and been talking, where we're not looking through the bars of a cage. - Yep. LINSEY DAVIS: Now back in the United States, Trevor is finally able to speak freely about what happened during those three years of Russian detention. - How are you feeling? How are you doing? - Good. Obviously, I like this situation a lot better than when we met, you know, last time. - How are you finding adjusting to life at the moment? - Just being free. It feels different. I've been trying to get used to being free again. Seeing my family, being with them, talking to them, holding their hand, hugging them. That's what I missed-- missed the most. It's like kind of having this huge weight lifted off of you. LINSEY DAVIS: Weight lifted, because Trevor Reed went from someone young and trying to see the world, to a political prisoner, all stemming from one fateful day back in August 2019. PATRICK REEVELL: Trevor decided to go to Russia, because he had met his girlfriend, Alina. They had met in Greece, and he decided to go to Russia and see what it was like living with her. Trevor went to a birthday party with Alina. People at the party were basically giving Trevor tons of vodka shots, toasting with him, and he became very, very drunk. And as they were going home, Trevor, according to Alina, became unmanageable and jumped out of the car. And she was getting worried for him that he was going to be hit by a car. She just basically didn't know what to do. And so she made a decision to call the police, and try and have them come and take him to a drunk tank. TREVOR REED: I lost memory up until the next morning, when I woke up at the police station. Obviously, waking up at the police station would be pretty alarming, but at the same time, I knew that it was nothing serious, because I was in the lobby. I had my phone. I had my wallet. Police officers were joking with me. Obviously, I should have immediately left, but I didn't feel confident in getting back to my girlfriend's apartment. My Russian wasn't enough to do that at that point. So I figured I would wait an extra 10 minutes for my girlfriend to get there, and then leave with her. PATRICK REEVELL: What should have been a very brief stint in Russia turned into this huge ordeal for Trevor and for his family. He essentially was caught up in what is something like a Cold War spy drama. LINSEY DAVIS: Waiting at that police station was a mistake Reed would pay for, for the next three years. TREVOR REED: The police changed shifts. A new chief came into the station. He heard me there speaking English. After that, they told me I couldn't leave. That's when FSB operatives showed up. LINSEY DAVIS: The FSB, the descendant of Russia's infamous KGB, is now that nation's leading intelligence agency. TREVOR REED: The main thing that they wanted to know was about my military service. They didn't ask me if I had committed a crime, if I had done something wrong. I knew that this was going to be a problem. PATRICK REEVELL: Trevor was a presidential Marine. There are lots of photos of him with President Obama. He was part of the security detail down at Camp David-- the elite of the elite. And Russian police framed him. He fell into their hands. And once they had him, they used what had happened to trump up charges against him. LINSEY DAVIS: Trevor was charged with using violence that endangered the life of a police officer. He was held in pre-trial detention for eight months. TREVOR REED: The prison in general is extremely dirty. It's dilapidated. There's rats. It looks like something out of a film that you watch about, like, prisons 1,000 years ago. That's really what it looks like. I mean, everything there is just ancient-- as well, apparently, as the court system, as the judicial system. I underestimated how corrupt the Russian government is to taking Americans as hostages. This whole court process, which looks real, and then at the end, that was completely just a facade, just a sham. LINSEY DAVIS: Even the two police officers who allegedly accused Trevor of attacking them couldn't get their story straight in court. TREVOR REED: I'd actually spoken with those police officers before. I said, why are you guys doing this? Why did you write this, like, false accusation against me? And he looked at the other police officer, and he said, we didn't want to write this. They told us to write this. And to be honest, I think they did try to, like, do the right thing. Their testimony was just so laughable that I was like, OK, these guys are clearly not trying to make this look like it really happened. PATRICK REEVELL: They became so confused in their testimony that the judge started laughing at them. And I don't think I've ever seen a Russian judge laugh before. LINSEY DAVIS: Through it all, Trevor's father, Joey, was right by his side, showing up to all the hearings. - I was ready to weather the storm, stay as long as is required to support my son. TREVOR REED: I couldn't wait to go to court so that I could see my dad there. But at the same time, I knew that it was probably killing them to see me in prison. PATRICK REEVELL: Police claimed that while Trevor was in the car taking him to the police station, he was violent and had essentially attacked the driver of the car and tried to swerve the car across the divide in the road and into oncoming traffic. And the Reeds later got traffic cameras that showed that actually, that never happened. The car never crossed the dividing line. Russian police have body cameras. The cars have cameras. And we knew that the footage existed from that night. They said it was automatically deleted. So Joey made sure that no one over here on this side in America would think, oh, maybe he is guilty. - It's been more than two years at this point. Mr. Reed, just curious how your family's holding up at this time. - We're holding up. We're trying to stay focused on bringing him home, keeping public attention on Trevor's case. LINSEY DAVIS: Russian courts convict 99% of cases. Trevor was no exception. He was sentenced to nine years in a labor camp. REPORTER: Do you have any complaints? - I do, but I don't want to talk about those right now. TREVOR REED: They expect you to go there and be a slave for the Russian government, which I refused to do. They were not going to make one ruble off of me. And whatever punishment I received for that, you know, it was worth it to me. I didn't care. LINSEY DAVIS: Trevor says he was often put in solitary detention for failing to comply. TREVOR REED: It's cold there. There's just a hot water pipe, basically, that you have to use to stay warm. If you lay down while you're in there, they will extend your time in solitary confinement. - I mean, that must have been hard psychologically to be in solitary confinement. - I mean, it was difficult, but you know, I wasn't going to let that change my actions. LINSEY DAVIS: Solitary confinement wasn't the only tool the Russians used to try to get prisoners like Trevor to obey. While still on trial, they sent Trevor to a psych ward. TREVOR REED: That was pretty terrible. You know, blood on the walls. There's crap all over the floor, also on the walls. The guards there really treat those prisoners like animals. The medical personnel there as well-- just completely unprofessional. - Were you afraid that you might be kept there indefinitely? - Yeah, absolutely, I was afraid of that. I thought that maybe they had sent me there to chemically disable me, you know, give me sedatives or whatever, and make me unable to fight. - Turn you into a vegetable, basically. - Yeah, exactly. That's what I was afraid of, and that was one of my biggest fears the whole time that I was in prison. LINSEY DAVIS: As the war in Ukraine intensified, shattering already strained relations between the United States and Russia, Trevor Reed started protesting the conditions of his detainment. Desperate for proper medical care, he went on a hunger strike. His family, fearing the worst, pleaded from public and presidential attention. His surprise release took place just weeks after his hunger strike and in the backdrop of the war. - It shows something positive that despite enormous differences between the United States and Russia, we can still deal diplomatically on a humanitarian basis. TREVOR REED: It was about 20 FSB agents total, I think. Loaded me into one of their jets, and took off and started flying to Turkey. - So the plane lands in Turkey, and the exchange takes place. We saw you walking across the tarmac. What were you thinking? What was going through your head at that moment? - You know, that's just extremely surreal, that moment. I remember thinking, like, is this real? It feels like you're in a dream. You know, you're thinking, maybe this is not happening. Maybe I'm still going to wake up right now in solitary confinement. - Did you look across at the other man walking the other direction? - I did. And I knew that that was probably Konstantin Yaroshenko. LINSEY DAVIS: The US had exchanged Konstantin Yaroshenko for Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap. - It's happy, because I'm in the motherland, with my own people, with my own family. - We had worked with the White House. They were supportive of the private humanitarian mission, and we made that proposal-- Trevor Reed for Yaroshenko. And the Russians seemed interested when I made that proposal. LINSEY DAVIS: Yaroshenko was a convicted drug trafficking Russian pilot who was serving a 20-year sentence for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. - He wasn't specifically sought out. He was a target of opportunity. He willingly engaged in a drug trafficking conspiracy in West Africa. - That was kind of surreal. I remember looking at him, and he looked over at me, and I think both of us probably had that same feeling, that same thought of, like, that's what that guy looks like? LINSEY DAVIS: A brief exchange before Trevor boarded that plane bound for the United States. - What was going through your head as you were headed back to America? - Mostly, I was hoping that that plane did not crash at that moment before I saw my family, to be honest with you. So that was a big fear that I had. I don't know why, but started to get kind of nervous about flying after prison. LINSEY DAVIS: The plane landed safely. And upon arrival, Trevor was sent to stay in a military hospital. TREVOR REED: I was in really bad physical condition at that time. When I came back to the US, I weighed 131 pounds. And when I went to Russia, before prison, I had weighed 175. I had been coughing up blood for several months. And the Russian, you know, prison, penitentiary system, was refusing me tests on tuberculosis. I was not going to risk infecting my family, even though they tried to come up and hug me. They were just overjoyed that I was there. - So you weren't able to hug each other in that first meeting. - I wasn't able to hug them. I had serious concerns that they may-- may get sick, and I could tell that they wanted to. - That must have been quite a moment. - Yeah. We all had a good cry there for a good deal of time. It's difficult to describe that feeling. So you know that it is real, but you can't fully accept that you're actually out. And I also had a really strong feeling of guilt that I was free and that Paul Whelan was still in prison. You know, I thought, when I found out that it was an exchange that was happening, that they had probably exchanged Paul Whelan as well. And I expected him to be coming home with me, and he didn't. LINSEY DAVIS: Paul Whelan, the former Marine charged with espionage, is currently serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian labor camp. - What did you think when you heard that Paul wasn't coming home? - Sorry. I thought that that was wrong that they got me out and not Paul. And-- sorry. And I knew that as soon as I was able to, that I would fight for him to get out, and that I would do everything I could to get him out of there. - You felt guilty that he wasn't able to come home, too. TREVOR REED: Yeah. Just-- I think that that's wrong that Paul was in there longer than I was, under harsher conditions, and that the United States got me out but they left him there. I can't describe to you how painful that feeling is. The United States should have got Paul out, and that they need to do that at any cost. And if that includes an exchange, I think they absolutely should do that. I think that they have a duty to do that. And frankly, I was extremely disappointed that they did not do that. That's unacceptable to me. - Why is it unacceptable? - Because I believe that the United States has a duty to get all Americans who are being held as political prisoners in other countries to get them out. And my opinion was that if the US had the ability to do that-- and I think that they do, because they were able to do that with me-- why haven't they already done that for Paul? And to be honest with you, why didn't they do that sooner? Why did I spend three years of my life, almost, in a gulag? Why did my parents-- why did my girlfriend spend three years of their lives fighting every day to get me home? LINSEY DAVIS: If the United States were to exchange Paul Whelan and WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, who's also being held in Russia, Russia's eyes are allegedly on Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker dubbed the Merchant of Death, serving a 15-year sentence in the US. - Mr. Bout owned his own fleet of private aircraft. And so to me, people can argue, was he the biggest arms trafficker? I look at him as one of the biggest arms transporters. PATRICK REEVELL: One of the reasons why Russia went after Paul Whelan and went after Trevor Reed is that they were designed to send a message to the US, saying, stop going after our people abroad. The US has become more and more aggressive over the years in trying to prosecute crime internationally, because they believe it comes back eventually to the US. TREVOR REED: He's no longer a threat, you know. He's paid for that crime, maybe not as long as the US government would have liked him to, but he has paid for that. Paul has another 13 years left in prison, and Brittney-- who knows how long she's going to be sentenced for. She may have 10 years in prison. They're getting two Americans who are going to have a huge amount of time left on their sentences for a guy who is getting out soon. I don't care if it's 100 Viktor Bouts. They have to get our guys out. LINSEY DAVIS: Of course, Trevor will need time to emotionally and physically recover from the trauma of imprisonment. But for now, he and his family are enjoying those precious moments once again together. - I'm not waking up with that dreaded feeling every day. I know I'm already over that, and I wake up every morning just like, wow, it's a regular day. - Yeah, that feeling of just waking up and worrying what's happening to Trevor, what can I do to get Trevor out-- I guess that has lifted. - I'm eating a big breakfast. What kind of crap is Trevor being fed by the Russians? You know, I'm sleeping in a comfortable bed. Is he freezing tonight? Just all day, every day, and that's gone. Thank god. - Do you believe that being able to meet with the President made a decisive difference in getting Trevor home? - Absolutely. It was very critical. Joey had said that all along, that if we could just speak to President Biden, he knew that he would understand us, because he's so compassionate. And he was very compassionate, very kind, very generous with his time when we went to visit with him. And we felt great when we left there, because he heard us out. He let us say everything we needed to say. And we felt good about it, and we had hoped that that would turn things around, and then it did. - I mean, Joey, can you tell me, what was it like for you? I mean, you spent so long in Russia, and then so long campaigning to try and get Trevor home. How do you feel, having him sitting next to you? - Yeah, it's just incredible. I mean, short of the day that he was born, you know, him and his sister, I can't think of anything better. LINSEY DAVIS: Trevor Reed is now back safely at home, but he and his parents have not stopped fighting. While he recovers and readjust to life in Texas, Trevor's family went back to the nation's capital, joining a protest in front of the White House, calling for the release of the other Americans still being held in Russia. - We've been planning with the other families to attend, and then we decided we weren't going to come, but my son said we needed to be here. He's extremely upset about Paul Whelan, being a fellow Marine being left behind. LINSEY DAVIS: According to the Foley Foundation, 59 US nationals are currently being held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. Among them, former Marine, Paul Whelan. REPORTER: Paul, I am from ABC News. Do you want to say something? - [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] - I don't think they want me to say anything. LINSEY DAVIS: Whelan was the first in a recent string of Americans detained in Russia. Russian intelligence grabbed him in Moscow in 2018 while he was there to attend a friend's wedding. - I got a medical condition that prohibits this. LINSEY DAVIS: The FSB accused Whelan of receiving a flash drive with classified material on it, later charging him with espionage. Paul Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison camp. ABC News spoke with him from the prison. PAUL WHELAN (ON PHONE): You know, they all laughed when I got here and said if the FSB had sent someone to my hotel room, it was obviously a trap. LINSEY DAVIS: Whelan is currently being held at a former gulag in Mordovia, located about 300 miles from Moscow. Like other inmates, he tells ABC News he works eight hours a day making clothes. In prison now, because he says he was framed by a Russian friend. PAUL WHELAN (ON PHONE): The day in question, he came over unannounced. I'm taking a shower, trying to get ready to go to this wedding dinner. And 10 minutes after he gets there, his friends come through the door and say, I'm a spy. BILL RICHARDSON: We have to get Paul Whelan out. He's a Marine. He's wrongfully detained. And the way you do this is through quiet diplomacy. The government weighing in, my team weighing in, us working together-- that's hopefully that it's going to happen. LINSEY DAVIS: The Whelan family has expressed some frustration with the State Department's handling of Paul's case. DAVID WHELAN: The message we received was that the US government itself isn't taking acts because we haven't made enough noise. It's pretty outrageous. LINSEY DAVIS: The Reed and Whelan families now joining forces, pressing for Whelan's freedom. ELIZABETH WHELAN: What I'm looking forward to is that moment when Paul and Trevor can meet each other. It might be a while from now, but it will be a very great day. - I'll tell you that's going to be a long-- a long hug like we got. LINSEY DAVIS: The White House insists efforts to get Whelan out of Russia are ongoing. - We will continue to do everything possible to bring Paul Whelan home. The President is focused on that. LINSEY DAVIS: But Whelan isn't the only one who needs help. Back in February, 31-year-old WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia after she was allegedly caught with hashish oil in her luggage outside of Moscow airport. This video released by Russian customs appears to show the star player being stopped at a Moscow airport. This booking photo shown on Russian state TV is one of the few images we've seen of Griner since she was taken into custody. The situation is playing out at a time when all eyes are on Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine, contributing to rising tensions with the United States. EVELYN FARKAS: One of the disturbing elements of this is the fact that Brittney can be held for years. They will keep her in jail as long as they like and as long as they find it useful for them. LINSEY DAVIS: A two-time gold Olympic medallist standing at a towering 6'9", Brittney Griner is one of the most dominant athletes in professional sports-- a star center for the Phoenix Mercury. TJ QUINN: Ever since she was a star at Baylor, she was an Olympian, and all her years in the WNBA-- she's one of the greatest who's ever played the game. She's become an icon on her own. LINSEY DAVIS: But despite her success in the States, she spent the off-seasons playing professional basketball in Russia for the past several years, where the pay and benefits are far greater than the WNBA. Since she's been detained, Russia has regularly denied Griner consistent consular access. The State Department says Griner is wrongfully detained. WILLIAM POMERANZ: Once she was detained and charged, I think it became a political case, simply because the Russians are always looking to have some sort of exchange-- American for a Russian. LINSEY DAVIS: Now that Trevor is free, he says his focus is freedom for the other Americans he left behind. TREVOR REED: We do have political prisoners all over the world in multiple countries, who are suffering and who need our help. Paul Whelan-- his situation's a lot worse than mine is, and we need to do everything possible to get him out at any cost. We also have Brittney Griner there, and we need to get her out. - Each one of these cases is really kind of on a separate track. That, I believe, is why Paul and Trevor could not come home together. I believe Russia may have different desires in exchange for Paul than they did for Trevor. So we're just asking the White House, the administration, to do whatever is needed. Use whatever tools are at their disposal to bring Paul home. And the same goes for everyone. All of these different countries have different problems that they have created, often, with the United States. Different situations have to be resolved. I believe the tools are there, and we're just asking for them to be used.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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