Everyone’s most problematic early-pandemic obsession is back. Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic aka the “Tiger King” has returned to the public radar, just in time to capitalize on the news cycle for a new episode of 48 Hours about the death of Carole Baskin’s first husband, Don Lewis. Exotic, who is currently in prison for conspiring to hire someone to kill Baskin, is asking President Trump for a pardon — but not before he serves up a very completely truthful compliment.
In a letter addressed to the president, Exotic tells Trump that he was his own inspiration for his failed presidential run, and that he had voted for Trump in 2016. “If I have ever looked up to anyone it would be you, not because I need you to save my life but because you stand for what you believe no matter what anyone thinks,” he writes. “I am begging you to listen to the millions who see the truth. I’m asking you to listen to your own son Donald Jr. and make this right and grant me a miracle, ‘a pardon,’ and let me put this behind me.”
Donald Trump, Jr., who is an admitted fan of the Netflix series, has said that he felt Exotic’s sentence was “aggressive” and that he’d lobby his father for a pardon. When Trump was asked about the case earlier this year by a reporter, he said he’d “take a look” at issuing a pardon.
Exotic is serving a 22-year federal sentence in Fort Worth, Texas and likely wrote to the president asking for a pardon knowing it was already on Trump’s radar and because the president has a reputation for pardoning celebrities and friends. During the course of his presidency, Trump has pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois (and Celebrity Apprentice contestant) who tried to sell the vacant Senate seat left behind by President Obama in 2008, and granted clemency to Roger Stone, who is a personal friend of his.
In 2018, after meeting with Kim Kardashian, Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for her nonviolent involvement in a cocaine trafficking ring; Johnson recently spoke at the Republican National Convention and was granted a full pardon by Trump.
Exotic — a self-proclaimed musician and alleged animal lover — is likely counting on his celebrity status and support for the president to sway Trump’s decision. In his letter, he says he wants to be released so he can “return to helping sick children and the homeless” and to be with his husband Dillon, who is 33 years younger than him and part of a pattern of Exotic marrying much younger men — a dynamic mentioned briefly and portrayed with disturbing undertones in the Netflix series.
“Allow me to make you proud, to make America proud, to make the world proud,” Maldonado-Passage implored Trump in his letter. And then, the real kicker came in when Exotic called Trump a word he has rarely heard outside of his paid staff or family (or both): “Be my hero please.”
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