A federal investigation against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton remains in play after his name was absent Wednesday from a last-minute list of pardons in the waning hours of Donald Trump's presidency.
The investigation centers on allegations that Paxton committed bribery, abuse of office and other crimes. Paxton's top deputies reported him to the FBI in September, accusing him of using his position to help an Austin real estate developer.
Paxton has not been charged in federal court, so any pardon would have been preemptive. He has broadly denied wrongdoing.
The attorney general spoke at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington shortly before a mob of Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly riot.
Paxton also brought a legal challenge asking the U.S. Supreme Court to effectively reverse Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election, prompting speculation that Paxton was angling for a pardon. Trump joined the suit and praised Paxton's effort to subvert the election, but legal experts dismissed it as frivolous even before the court tossed the case.
Another name missing in Trump's flurry of pardons is “Tiger King” Joe Exotic.
His team was so confident in a pardon that they'd readied a celebratory limousine and a hair and wardrobe team to whisk away the zookeeper-turned-reality-TV-star, who is now serving a 22-year federal prison sentence in Texas. But he wasn't on the list announced Wednesday morning.
Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison for violating federal wildlife laws and for his role in a failed murder-for-hire plot targeting his chief rival, Carole Baskin, who runs a rescue sanctuary for big cats in Florida. Baskin was not harmed.
Maldonado-Passage, who has maintained his innocence, was also sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records. A jury convicted him in April 2019.
In his pardon application filed in September, Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys argued that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others. Maldonado-Passage, 57, is scheduled to be released from custody in 2037, but his attorneys said in the application that “he will likely die in prison” because of health concerns.
Maldonado-Passage's legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
The blond mullet-wearing zookeeper, known for his expletive-laden rants on YouTube and a failed 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial campaign, was prominently featured in the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”