Two weeks removed from running the Interior Department ― a federal agency of 70,000 federal employees that manages one-fifth of the land in the United States ― Ryan Zinke this week landed a gig working for a little-known firm that invests in emerging financial technology fields like blockchain, the networks that underpin cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The unlikely post-government service job for a man with no apparent background in the finance or technology sectors can be traced back to an old-fashioned case of swampy good fortune.
On a Friday afternoon in April, Zinke boarded a plane from Dallas to Atlanta after speaking at EarthX, an environmental conference. What Zinke likely didn’t know was that the investment banker he sat next to on that leg of his flight home to Washington, D.C. would soon be his new boss.
Daniel P. Cannon, CEO of technology and energy investment firm Artillery One, told HuffPost that he and Zinke spent the flight talking about American energy independence ― a favorite topic of Zinke’s during his tenure in the Trump administration.
“We discussed how U.S. soldiers dying for foreign oil was unacceptable to [President Donald Trump],” Cannon told HuffPost in a text message, adding that the two did not talk business.
The former Navy SEAL and Montana congressman made an impression. His military service and “qualities of leadership attracted me the most,” Cannon said.
A future job prospect never came up during the flight. But after hearing that Zinke would resign from his post on Jan. 2, Cannon reached out about having him join Artillery One.
The North Carolina-based company announced Zinke as its senior vice president and managing director in a Monday press release aptly titled “Heavy artillery.” The former interior secretary “brings a wealth of experience and understanding of the workings of business and government” and will help the firm “continue to expand its consulting and finance business in the core areas of cybersecurity, energy, fintech and digital assets,” Cannon said in an accompanying statement.
The company is all but nonexistent online. In October, it hosted a “Blockchain Innovators Summit” in Pebble Beach, California, which it described as the “preeminent event in the history of blockchain.” It is slated to host another blockchain conference in March in Palm Beach, Florida. The price tag for attendees is $2,000 apiece.
Before Monday’s announcement, an online search of the company primarily turned up media coverage of the firm’s failed attempt last year to rescue Swiss blockchain firm Monetas from bankruptcy. The deal was terminated in February after a feud between Cannon and Monetas’ founder, SWI swissinfo.ch reported.
If the former chief steward of America’s natural resources joining a blockchain investment firm wasn’t odd enough, Zinke ― the loyal soldier of Trump’s pro-fossil fuel “energy dominance” agenda for the last two years ― appears to have sold himself to Cannon as a someone who understands the immediate threat of climate change and is anxious to see the world transition to clean energy.
“Secretary Zinke understands the need for alternative, renewable energy as climate change is a clear and present danger,” Cannon told ThinkProgress.
Asked about climate change during an Environmental Protection Agency briefing a little more than a month ago, Zinke said he was “proud” the United States is now the largest oil and gas producer in the world ― and “proud of the fact that we’re going to get even better.” He repeatedly downplayed the dire conclusions in the latest federal climate assessment, saying scientists relied on “the worst scenarios.” And while he pitched himself as a champion of public lands, he spent his time in the administration opening up millions of acres of public land to drilling and mining as he worked to pave a better future for the fossil fuel industry by rolling back environmental safeguards.
Asked to elaborate on his comment to ThinkProgress, Cannon told HuffPost that he personally believes climate change is a serious threat.
“Secretary Zinke feels alternative energy away from fossil fuels is optimal wherever practical,” he wrote. “Natural Gas seems to be the transition fuel to alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, wave motion). We both share the opinion that U.S. Soldiers should not be fighting and dying over energy.”
Asked about Zinke’s comment at the EPA briefing and if he’s concerned about his new employee’s history of questioning climate science, Cannon said, “I’m aware that energy independence was/is the mandate of his former boss, President Trump.”
On Monday, Zinke told the Associated Press he had “joined a winning team.”
“I am glad to be out of the swamp and free from the chains of office,” he said.
Aside from blockchain, the company’s investments include research at the University of California, Los Angeles, into supercapacitors and other technology that would boost battery storage, according to Cannon. And the firm is assisting some micro-nations that are switching “from fossil fuels to cleaner renewable energy sources,” he said.
“We at Artillery One aspire to make the world a clean environment and reduce carbon emissions as much as technology will allow,” Cannon said. “We will continue to use our influence in financial and technological markets to achieve renewable energy optimization for the world.”
In its press release, Artillery One said Zinke will be based in Montana and California but the job would also involve “extensive travel overseas.” And working with Cannon, Zinke “will continue to follow the vision of President Donald J. Trump in Making America Great Again, by bringing economic development, jobs and opportunities for people, at home and internationally,” the company said.
Zinke’s first job assignment for Artillery One is a cushy one. He will travel to Switzerland this week to represent his new company at the Crypto Finance Conference, described as “the world’s most exclusive investor conference on cryptocurrencies and blockchain investments.” The three-day event kicks off Wednesday and is held at a ritzy, five-star hotel in the resort town of St. Moritz.
Zinke exited the Interior Department on Jan. 2 under a cloud of ethics scandals and some critics speculated he would end up working in the oil and gas industry. Cannon told ThinkProgress reporter Kyla Mandel that he’s not concerned about ongoing federal investigations into Zinke’s conduct and policy decisions while at the federal agency, one of which was recently referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal violations. And when pressed about the Trump-MAGA mention in the company’s release, Cannon answered, “I have no opinion on that. I stay out of politics. However, I love our country.”
But if the Artillery One press release and his personal Facebook page are any indications, Cannon is a vocal Trump supporter. And he and his new employee share disdain for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While Zinke once called Clinton the “Antichrist” and the “real enemy,” Cannon shared a meme months before the 2016 election that shows a dog defecating on the cover of her book, Hard Choices. And in January 2016 he peddled the debunked right-wing conspiracy that former President Barack Obama was born outside the U.S., sharing a meme with a picture of Clinton and the words, “If I go down, the Kenyan comes with me.”