Congressman Colin Allred tells TMZ Sports the U.S. is calling Brittney Griner"basically a political prisoner" now in Russia ... and says because of it, government officials have formally begun negotiations with the foreign country to bring the WNBA superstar home.
We spoke with the representative out on Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon -- just hours after it was announced that Griner's detention in Russia would be extended until at least July 2 -- and he confirmed to us they've officially entered into talks with Russian leaders to try to get Griner back on U.S. soil.
"We're actively negotiating to get her out," Allred said. "Basically, we've acknowledged and we understand now that she is being held as basically a political prisoner."
"In some ways, that’s helpful," Allred continued, "because now we can just have a discussion on, 'What is it going to take for you to allow us to bring her back home?'"
It appears it'll be an uphill battle to make the negotiations work, however ... according to Russian state media outlet TASS, a Russian diplomat said on Tuesday the country will not consider a detainee swap for Griner until her case wraps in the court system.
It's unclear when that date might be -- she's been in custody since mid-February as her case continues to plod on -- but Allred told us they're still doing everything they can to make it sooner rather than later.
As for how Griner is doing while in custody, Allred said, "she’s as good as she could be under the circumstances, and the circumstances are not great."
He did say she is able to receive some messages from loved ones through her attorney.
"For all of us that have been working on this, in some ways we knew this was going to be where we ended up, negotiating for her release," Allred said, "but we're just hopeful that, in the meantime, that she can stay strong, understand that there's a lot of people that support her, and we're doing everything we can to get her home."