Patrick Byrne, the chief executive of the e-commerce website Overstock.com, resigned Thursday in bombastic fashion after revealing he had a relationship with a woman accused of being a Russian spy while detailing what he called an elaborate “espionage” plot targeting President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Though patriotic Americans are writing me in support, my presence may affect and complicate all manner of business relationships, from insurability to strategic discussions regarding our retail business,” Byrne wrote to Overstock shareholders. “Thus, while I believe that I did what was necessary for the good of the country, for the good of the firm, I am in the sad position of having to sever ties with Overstock.”
Byrne, who has for decades written about conspiracy theories on a personal website, declared himself “far too controversial” to remain in his position, but said he had set a “red line” after watching “my country pull itself apart while I knew many answers” and had to come forward.
The departure came a week after he released an unprompted statement confirming he had been in a relationship with Maria Butina, an accused Russian spy currently serving an 18-month prison term after she allegedly tried to insert herself into powerful political circles at the direction of the Kremlin. The news was first reported by a Fox News contributor, Sara Carter, earlier this month after Byrne described the relationship to her.
He also said he had been working with federal investigators to help them with their “Clinton” and “Russia” investigations, but said the inquiries “turned out to be less about law enforcement and more about political espionage conducted against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.”
Shares of Overstock fell sharply after his statement last week, but rebounded by about 9% on Thursday.
Byrne said he was prompted to come forward after speaking with Warren Buffett, who he referred to as his “Omaha rabbi.” He later told The New York Times he also came forward with his statement before anyone else could share his story.
In the hours after his resignation, Byrne went on a media blitz, appearing on multiple networks to detail his involvement with Butina and his supposed work with the FBI. In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Byrne suggested that senior figures at the FBI encouraged him to continue his relationship with Butina after he contacted them because he had grown suspicious of her. He said the pair met at a conference in Las Vegas in 2015.
Byrne also appeared on Fox Business to explain his exit from Overstock, saying he had to “eject” because he had been “warned that if I come forward … the apparatus of Washington is going to grind me into a dust.”
He later claimed that he knew of “political espionage” targeting Trump and Clinton as well as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“This isn’t a theory of mine, this isn’t a political position,” Byrne said on Fox. “I was in the room when it happened. I was part of it. I thought I was doing law enforcement. Sorry.”
Byrne has been replaced by Jonathan Johnson, who will serve as interim CEO.