President Donald Trump was asked if he would consider a pardon for Tiger King star Joe Exotic — real name Joe Maldonado-Passage — during Wednesday evening’s Coronavirus Task Force press conference. After giving a daily update, Trump opened the floor for questions. While most journalists have been asking about the coronavirus and the weeks to come, one reporter decided to ask the president something about pop culture.
“So, one of the biggest rating hits of the coronavirus, aside from these briefings, has been a show on Netflix called ‘Tiger King.’ And the man who is the star of this is a former zoo owner who is serving a 22-year prison sentence,” the journalist explained. “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’d seen the show and if you have any thoughts on pardoning Joe Exotic,” he prompted.
“Which son?” Trump responded, smiling. “Must be Don.”
“It was,” the journalist answered.
“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?” the president questioned.
“He allegedly hired someone to murder an animal rights activist but he said that he didn’t do that,” the journalist responded.
“You think he didn’t do it? Are you on his side?” Trump asked the reporter. “Are you recommending a pardon?”
“No, I’m not advocating anything,” the reporter clarified.
“As a reporter, you are not allowed to do that. You’d be criticized by these…” Trump said, asking another reporter if he would recommend a pardon.
The room seemed to have a bit of a chuckle before Trump moved to the next question.
“I’ll look into it,” he concluded.
You can watch the exchange below.
A reporter just asked if Trump would pardon Joe Exotic from Tiger King and Trump said, "I will take a look." pic.twitter.com/f0c0R8QmDy
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) April 8, 2020
For those unfamiliar with the show Tiger King, the documentary looks into the lives of various parties involved with exotic animals, particularly big cats. Joe Exotic, for whom the series is named, is currently in prison after he was convicted of paying someone to murder a woman named Carole Baskin.
Baskin is the founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. The accredited sanctuary prides itself on saving these animals from roadside zoos, private ownership, and other questionable institutions profiting from their cat-to-human interactions.
Baskin was not harmed but an investigation into a conspiracy to kill her landed Joe Exotic behind bars. After Tiger King was released on Netflix, Joe Exotic decided to use the attention generated by the series to reach out to Trump, asking for a pardon. He wrote a letter from his prison cell, as quoted by Oklahoma City’s News 9.
“Mr. President, I am asking for a special investigation or a Presidential Pardon from the conviction I have just received. Here in America, we used to take the swearing of oath seriously to tell the truth. These days it means nothing to anyone, not even the Department of Justice or the U.S Attorney’s Office. My trial was not about the truth, it was about the win for the prosecutors… Let’s ‘Make America Great Again.’ Mr. President, I am pleading with you to please have this looked into.”
While Trump did say he would look into the situation, it remains unclear how much emphasis will be put on the subject, given the joking nature in which it was raised and the fact that the president’s focus remains on the coronavirus pandemic.