Matt Lauer has given his first interview since he lost his job at Today over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior to talk about another controversy bearing his name — one that he says is being put out there because he's seen as "an easy mark."
Matt Lauer has given his first interview since he lost his job at Today over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior to talk about another controversy bearing his name — one that he says has been raised because he’s seen as “an easy mark.”
The disgraced journalist, 60, was on Radio New Zealand’s show Checkpoint with John Campbell on Tuesday in his first interview since departing NBC to discuss his battle with a government agency and a hiking group over a road that runs through the $13 million, 16,000-acre farm, dubbed Hunter Valley Station, he picked up in February 2017.
“I think they see me as an easy mark. I believe they think that New Zealanders are going to find some outrage there,” he said, seemingly referring to the allegations made against him by four former coworkers that led to his termination in December 2017. He added, “I will tell people, they don’t know the circumstances of that situation. I promise you. I’m not at liberty to talk, nor do I want to talk about that. But they’re choosing this fight for a reason. This is why this fight was chosen now.”
New Zealand has strict rules for foreign buyers who wish to purchase land in the country, and its Overseas Investment Office (OIO) put Lauer through a lengthy approval process before he was able to lease the property. He even had to undergo a “good character test” — one that he passed before the Today allegations and then had to retake in light of his firing.
Lauer was given the all clear by the OIO in June, Reuters reports. But now, the Walking Access Commission and New Zealand’s Department of Conservation are seeking an easement on a 24 mile-road that winds through his property on the shore of Lake Hawaea and Lake Wanaka, connecting hikers and visitors to the public Hawea Conservation Park.
Officials say multiple people have been denied access to the pathway. But Lauer disputes that, claiming that groups are trying to target him due to his Today scandal.
“In my opinion, and I don’t think I’m being a conspiracy theorist here or paranoid, I believe the groups behind this are in some ways, unfortunately, taking advantage of some difficult times I’ve been through over the past six months,” Lauer told Campbell.
Lauer went on to explain that “this easement that’s being proposed is being proposed to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Right now, to walk the road, visitors must get prior approval from the Station by phone so that they can assure they’re properly equipped, not interrupting farming operations, and don’t go missing in the area that’s void of cell service. They’re rules that were established long before Lauer took over the property’s lease.
“The procedure is, you call the Station. You say, ‘I’d like to come back there. I’d like to go hiking up that road.’ And we say, ‘Are you properly equipped? Do you know the conditions of the road?'” Lauer explained, adding that the path can be dangerous in the winter. “As long as they tell us where they’re going to be and how long they intend to be back there, and that they’re properly equipped, we have let everyone go back there.”
In the past year, a little over 100 people have made the request, Lauer said — with only three being denied due to farming procedures. Staff at the property managing the requests have kept a log of everyone who has called.
The Walking Access Commission and the Department of Conservation, representatives of which did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, have not provided Lauer a list of any people who have complained.
“They don’t exist,” Lauer said. “So I’m not sure what the problem is these people are trying to solve.”
Allowing public access to the pathway would create problems, according to Lauer.
“All of a sudden we would have no way of knowing who is back there,” he said, detailing how none of those proposing the easement have spoken about who would track travelers. “What’s going to happen when they get back there and they don’t come back out? Are we supposed to stop farming that land and go look for them?”
Farming is Lauer’s major concern he says. Though the road would give those on it views of his home, Lauer hasn’t been there in months (he’s next returning in August for a ski trip). “The main issue is the farming operation,” he said. “That road dissects the farm. It comes within 30 meters of the main stockyard. It goes right down the heart of the farm.”
Ultimately, Lauer says that he would not have invested in the property at all had this easement been on the table from the beginning.
“If they said to me there would be an easement down that road, I probably would have thought differently about this,” he said. “But the fact is, I bought this property after going through that process and being told one set of circumstances existed. And now a year later, they’re coming to me saying let’s change the rules of the game. And I think anybody would find that disturbing.”
“Not only did I make the initial investment in this property, but in the year plus that I’ve owned it, I’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the property,” he added. “They come and say, we’ve granted you this lease under this set of rules, we’d like to change the rules. I don’t think that’s fair.”
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As for what would happen if the easement is allowed, Lauer says he’s not thinking about that yet and is just “going through the process one step at a time.”
He has not requested any compensation, though he said the statute states that if an easement is placed on the property, “the path to release owner or the property owner is entitled to compensation.”
“I have not asked for a cent,” Lauer said. “I have not demanded a cent.”
Would he, though? Lauer answered that question with a question. “Do you think that would have an impact on the value of that property? Or my investment?” he wondered. “I would certainly explore that option. As I think anybody would.”