OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – President Donald Trump joked late Wednesday that he would “take a look” at pardoning Joe Exotic, the flamboyant star of Netflix’s true-crime docuseries “Tiger King,” hours after the federal judge in Exotic’s $94 million lawsuit against federal officials rejected a recusal demand.
A reporter asked Trump during his daily coronavirus briefing about comments his son, Donald Trump Jr., made earlier in the day about pardoning Exotic.
“Which son said that? Don [Jr.]?” Trump asked with a bemused grin. “I had a feeling it was Don. I know nothing about it. Twenty-two years for what?”
The reporter responded that Exotic — real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 57 – was sentenced last year to 22 years in federal prison for trying to order a hit on rival big cat enthusiast Carole Baskin. He was also convicted of falsifying wildlife records and violating endangered animal laws when he killed and sold tigers.
“Do you think he didn’t do it? Are you on his side?” Trump asked, before polling several other reporters on what they thought.
“I’ll take a look at it,” the president said with a smile. “That’s Joe Exotic.”
Exotic has become a pop culture star as 34.3 million unique viewers have watched the show in the 10 days since its launch in late March, with most of the country under stay-at-home orders amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Tiger King” follows several of the eccentric personalities in the tiger enthusiast community and focuses on Exotic’s obsessive behavior towards rival Baskin after he entered into a $1 million settlement in a trademark case she filed against him. Exotic has repeatedly accused Baskin of playing a role in the disappearance of her husband, suggesting she fed his body to her tigers to take over his assets.
Trump Jr. professed his love for the show earlier Wednesday, admitting he finished the series “in two sittings.”
“I would generally be for [a pardon] just for the meme,” the president’s son joked on SiriusXM. “And frankly, just to watch the media reaction to this. It would be pretty amazing to ultimately see that.”
Trump Jr. admitted he did “not know exactly” what Exotic was convicted of, stating he didn’t seem “totally innocent of anything.”
“When they say ‘we are putting this guy away for 30 years,’ it seems aggressive,” he said. “Because of coronavirus, Riker’s Island – these liberal places – they’re releasing pedophiles, they are releasing child rapists because they are worried they have some pre-existing condition and then they get coronavirus in jail and get in trouble. I don’t know, guys. I kind of want to leave the child rapist in prison.”
Exotic is currently being held at Federal Medical Center Fort Worth in Texas. He was transferred to the medical prison last month when the Oklahoma county jail he was at had other inmates test positive for Covid-19. Exotic’s husband, Dillon Passage, confirmed Thursday that Exotic has not contracted the disease after being quarantined as a precaution.
“So when he got moved, I think it was just like a safety precaution for this new facility in Fort Worth,” Passage told Entertainment Tonight. “To just keep him isolated just in case he did have it so he wasn’t gonna pass it on to anybody else.”
Also Wednesday, the federal judge in Exotic’s $93.8 million lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several of his perceived enemies declined to recuse himself. Exotic serves as his own attorney in the lawsuit, which claims a vast conspiracy took his Oklahoma zoo away from him. He blames the prosecution for his mother’s death as well.
U.S. District Judge Scott Palk wrote in his four-page order that Exotic failed to “cite any authority in support of his motion” and that comments Palk made when he sentenced Exotic in his criminal case do not require recusal.
“Plaintiff alleges these remarks were made in a ‘hostile and agitated manner,’” Palk wrote. “The remarks plaintiff refers to, to the extent such remarks were made, concern the nature of the crimes committed by plaintiff.”
Exotic argued the judge “has a borderline conflict of being an animal rights advocate and [is] homophobic” due to the things the judge said to him at sentencing. He claims the judge should have recused himself from the criminal case, too.
“Remarks made like ‘I will make sure you are never around another animal the rest of your life,’” his motion stated. “The plaintiff has never been accused of any animal abuse in his life to deserve such a statement.”
Trump Jr. said he agreed with accusations that Baskin fed her husband to her tigers.
“The way she spoke about things, whether it was how to get money, whether it was an unseemly and interesting knowledge on how to possibly get a tiger to eat a human being with the sardine oil,” he said with a laugh.” You know what the really sad thing about this is? None of us knew we could have a tiger for just two grand.”
Baskin, for her part, has blasted Netflix and the documentary series for being “as salacious and sensational as possible” while failing to deliver on alleged assurances to her that it was meant to expose “the misery caused by rampant breeding” of tigers. She denies her husband was a millionaire when they met and says she helped police after his disappearance.
“As part of that, it has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago,” Baskin said in a written statement. “The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims.”