Will Trump Pardon 'Tiger King' Joe Exotic?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday November 29, 2020

This photo from Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. Joe Exotic
This photo from Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. Joe Exotic  (Source:Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)

Amid growing speculation that outgoing president Donald Trump will pardon numerous associates, family members, and perhaps even himself before departing office, one particularly startling name stands out: Openly gay former zoo owner Joe Exotic, the subject of the recent docuseries "Tiger King."

The New York Times reports that advocates for Exotic — whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — have pursued the presidential pardon with "a carefully orchestrated campaign" following Exotic's conviction last year in a murder-for-hire plot targeting rival Carole Baskin, as well as violating laws regarding protected animal species. Exotic is serving a 22-year sentence, but maintains that he was framed by Baskin.

Exotic's associates "have focused on getting Mr. Trump's attention through appeals to Donald Trump Jr. and [Jared] Kushner, appearances on Fox News and a visit to the Trump International Hotel in Washington where, one organizer said, they ran up a tab of about $10,000 to try to get Mr. Trump's attention."

Avid Trump supporter Matt Gaetz, a congressman representing Florida, was in the vanguard of those cheering the president on to make extensive use of the presidential pardon, reports Talking Points Memo. Gaetz mentioned Exotic by name in a Nov. 24 Fox News appearance, saying, "President Trump should pardon Michael Flynn. He should pardon the Thanksgiving turkey. He should pardon everyone, from himself to his administration officials to Joe Exotic if he has to," TPM reported.

Gaetz maintained that only "robust" use of presidential pardons would counter "bloodlust" targeting Trump associates on the part of what he called "the radical left."

The Times noted that the flurry of interest in how Trump will use the power of the presidential pardon was sparked by his Nov. 25 pardon of Michael Flynn, "his first national security adviser, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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