National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan declined to call Viktor Bout, the convicted international arms dealer, a terrorist Monday despite his conviction for conspiring to kill Americans.
"Does the (Biden) administration consider Viktor Bour a terrorist," Sullivan was asked during a White House press briefing in which he spoke about Bout's release from a U.S. prison last week in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was being held in Russia.
"What we consider him to have been was a convicted criminal convicted of arms trafficking and other crimes," Sullivan replied, noting that Bout is not listed as a terrorist by the State Department.
Bout was in the middle of serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States when he was freed during a prison swap for Griner, who was serving a 10-year sentence in Russia on marijuana charges.
Bout, dubbed the "Merchant of Death" due to his supplying of arms around the globe, including to top conflict zones like Afghanistan and Rwanda, had been convicted in 2011 of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiracy to deliver anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization.
The Biden administration has seen a swift backlash for the trade, which critics have called one-sided in favor of Russia, in part because its failure to secure the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is jailed in Russia on spy charges.
On Monday, Sullivan defended the swap.
"Before we make any determination about whether to send somebody back as part of a deal to get an American home, we make a determination about the national security implications of that," he said. "We did that assessment in this case."
"We believe we can manage those challenges, but we will remain constantly vigilant against any threat that Viktor Bout may pose to Americans, to the United States going forward," he added.
Sullivan noted that "there's no shortage of arms traffickers and mercenaries in Russia who pose challenges and threats to the international order."