During the White House daily coronavirus briefing, President Donald Trump said that he would “take a look” into possibly pardoning Joseph Maldonado-Passage, the man known as “Joe Exotic” in the popular Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness.
Maldonado-Passage is currently serving a 22-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth after being found guilty on 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of murder for hire.
During the daily coronavirus briefing, New York Post reporter Steven Nelson asked Trump, “So one of the biggest rating hits of the coronavirus, aside from these briefings, has been a show on Netflix called Tiger King. The man who’s the star of this is a former zoo owner who’s serving a 22-year sentence. He’s asking you for a pardon, saying he was unfairly convicted.”
“Your son yesterday, jokingly said he was going to advocate for it, and I was wondering if you’ve seen the show and if you have any thoughts on pardoning Joe Exotic,” Nelson asked.
Trump responded, “Which son? Must be Don,” meaning Donald Trump Jr.
When the reporter confirmed that it was Donald Trump Jr., Trump Sr. responded, “I had a feeling it was Don. Is that what he said? I don’t know, I know nothing about it. He has 22 years for what? What did he do?”
In April 2019, Maldonado-Passage was found guilty of eight violations of the Lacey Act, a federal law prohibiting the illegal acquisition and transport of rare animals, and nine violations of the Endangered Species Act for killing five tiger cubs. He has publicly appealed to Trump for a pardon.
Additionally, Maldonado-Passage was found guilty of two charges of murder for hire after asking an undercover FBI officer posing as a hitman to kill Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist who repeatedly tried to shut down Maldonado-Passage’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. The park was an Oklahoma-based attraction that displayed rare and exotic animals, including over 200 big cats.
Maldonado-Passage has claimed innocence of all charges and filed an $89 million-dollar false arrest lawsuit seeking nearly $74 million in damages for the loss of his exotic animals and $15 million for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, selective enforcement and the death of his mother, Shirley Schreibvogel, from stress she endured during the legal proceedings.
“You think he didn’t do it?” Trump asked the reporter. “Are you on his side? Are you recommending a pardon?”
“No,” the reporter replied, “I’m not advocating anything yet—”
“As a reporter,” Trump continued, “you’re not allowed to do that, you’d be criticized.” He then gestured to CNN reporter Jim Acosta and asked, “Would you recommend a pardon?”
“I’m not weighing in on Tiger King,” Acosta said.
“I don’t think you would,” said Trump, before telling Nelson, “I’ll take a look.”
While the exchange likely occurred in jest, Maldonado-Passage’s lawsuit and his attempt to have his original conviction tossed out over accusations of the presiding judge’s homophobia both suffered legal defeats this week as two separate judges recommended tossing out the lawsuit and denying any basis for his claims of judicial bias.
Newsweek has reached out to Maldonado-Passage to ask whether he plans to consider pursuing his lawsuit despite the judges’ recent decisions. He had not responded by the time of publication.
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