In a series of frantic and lengthy cable news interviews Thursday, the just-resigned CEO of Overstock.com wove a tale of intrigue, misconduct by federal “men in black” and fear of being “ground into a dust” by a political forces who he said wanted him quiet.
In interviews on Fox News, Fox Business Network and CNN, Byrne told his complicated story, casting himself as a lowly security clearance holder who provided information on alleged Russian agent Maria Butina, with whom he said he had a relationship.
The extent to which Byrne’s claims are true remains an open question. “The FBI has no comment,” Bureau spokesperson Carol Cratty told TPM in an email, presented with the businessman’s claims.
Byrne’s bizarrely public interjection into the Trump-Russia story began with an Aug. 12 press bulletin, “Overstock.com CEO Comments on Deep State, Withholds Further Comment.” He claimed that starting in 2015 he’d been an unwitting source of information for “political espionage conducted against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and to a lesser degree, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz).” In the days after the press release, Overstock’s share price plummeted.
In two articles by Fox News contributor Sara Carter for which Byrne served as a source, one in July and one on the day of his Overstock press bulletin, Byrne claimed he’d had a relationship with the alleged Russian agent Maria Butina, rekindling it in mid-2016, he said, at the request of “men in black” who were aware that Butina was a foreign agent.
Byrne also alleged that he had shared exculpatory information about Butina with the government, which it then withheld from Butina’s defense team. He also claimed to have told his story to the Justice Department — which he’s celebrated as having returned to “rule of law” under Attorney General Bill Barr.
“I ended up in the center of the Russian and the Clinton investigations,” Byrne told Fox Business host David Asman on Aug. 12. “I have all the answers. I have been sitting on them waiting for America to get there.”
That saga brought Byrne to Thursday, when he said his political pronouncements would hurt Overstock if he stayed on board. So, he announced, he was leaving the company after 20 years.
Hours later, he was on television.
Wearing a red “Make America Grateful Again” hat — a nod to the Grateful Dead and the “flag-waving hippie” Jerry Garcia, he said — Byrne ran through his relationship with a cast of characters painted as Russia probe villains by those on the right.
The “man who sent me the orders,” Byrne told Asman, was Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who was fired for sending anti-Trump text messages, and who is now suing the government over his termination. Later, Byrne would characterize Strzok as an “errand boy,” working under orders from higher-ups including former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
“There was political espionage conducted against Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, [Ted] Cruz and Donald Trump,” Byrne said, tearing up as he added that he felt “a bit responsible” for mass shootings such as recent one in El Paso, Texas — though the connection wasn’t immediately clear.
He made similar claims during a 40-minute segment with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “It’s almost like they’re letting this can-o’-scandal develop and someday they’re going to shake it up and crack it and spray it all over the Republican Party,” he said, describing his thinking in January 2016.
He went further with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum. “It looked like law enforcement was actually setting Hillary Clinton up to be blackmailed,” Byrne said, only to pivot when asked for detail: “I’m not going to get into it.”
Once the “Russia scandal” began to receive news coverage, Byrne told MacCallum, “I tried as much as I could not to follow it, because I wanted to keep my own mind clear for when the investigators showed up.”
Then he suggested that viewers buy their pillows at Overstock.com.
In several interviews, Byrne has credited his “rabbi,” Warren Buffet, with convincing him to come forward to the press. He emphasized that, while he was willing to testify under oath, he wanted to “disappear.”
“I’m laying low,” Byrne said at one point.
A Forbes profile published just after Byrne’s resignation said the former CEO was headed south.
“I will be sitting on a beach in South America shortly, and that is all I want to think about,” he told Forbes. “I want to focus on getting back into good shape, doing yoga and becoming a vegetarian.”