The CEO of online retailer Overstock.com resigned abruptly Thursday amid fallout from his remarks last week about taking part in an FBI “deep state” operation against Russian national Maria Butina.
Patrick Byrne said in a statement to shareholders that he is resigning because his presence at Overstock could complicated “all manner of business relationships.”
Overstock’s shares fell sharply last week after Byrne issued a statement regarding the reports in which he criticized the “deep state” investigation of Butina, and referred to FBI agents as “Men in Black.”
Byrne was commenting on his reported role as an FBI informant during an investigation of Butina, a 30-year-old Russian national serving an 18-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
Byrne told a handful of reporters in July that the FBI asked him to keep tabs on Butina after he met her at a libertarian conference in July 2015.
“In July I came forward to a small set of journalists regarding my involvement in certain government matters. Doing so was not my first choice, but I was reminded of the damage done to our nation for three years and felt my duty as a citizen precluded me from staying silent any longer,” Byrne said in his statement, first reported by CNBC.
Byrne told Fox News contributor Sara Carter that after his relationship with Butina fizzled in 2016, his FBI contacts asked him to re-connect with Butina. He said that the orders came down from the highest levels of the bureau. He also said that he came forward because he grew disillusioned with how the Justice Department and FBI handled the Butina investigation.
Robert Driscoll, a lawyer for Butina, asked the Justice Department and FBI to investigate whether the FBI withheld exculpatory information regarding his client’s case.
Butina admitted in her Dec. 13 plea deal that she acted as an unregistered agent of Russia by acting at the direction of Alexander Torshin, the former deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, to establish relationships with conservative political groups.
Butina and Torshin founded a gun rights group in Russia called The Right to Bear Arms. Through the organization, they established contacts with the National Rifle Association, and hosted several officials with the group on trips to Russia.
Butina’s prison term ends in October. Overstock’s shares were halted for trading following Byrne’s announcement.
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