Patrick Byrne, the head of online retailer Overstock, resigned Thursday in the shadow of comments he made recently about multiple federal law enforcement investigations.
Mr. Byrne, Overstock’s founder and longtime chief executive, announced his departure from the company 10 days after issuing a cryptic statement involving the “deep state,” Russia, President Trump and his former 2016 White House rival, Hillary Clinton.
In a statement titled “Overstock.com CEO Comments on Deep State, Withholds Further Comment,” Mr. Byrne said that starting in 2015 he “assisted in what are now known as the ‘Clinton Investigation’ and the ‘Russian Investigation.’” He subsequently told reporters that he had dated Maria Butina, a Russian woman convicted last year of conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent, and that government officials had been contemporaneously aware of their relationship.
Following up Thursday, Mr. Byrne attributed his decision to leave Overstock to the recent developments.
“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,” Mr. Byrne wrote in a letter sent to 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, both as CEO and board member, effective Thursday August 22.”
Jonathan Johnson, a fellow member of Overstock’s board, will succeed Mr. Byrne as the company’s interim CEO, it announced separately.
“We respect and understand Patrick’s reasons for resigning and acknowledge his momentous achievement in taking Overstock from a startup twenty years ago to one of the nation’s leading online retailers and positioning it at the forefront of the blockchain revolution,” board Chairwoman Allison Abraham said in a statement.
Butina, 30, was accused by prosecutors of infiltrating conservative groups, including the National Rifle Association, in an effort to covertly advance Russian interests. She pleaded guilty of a lesser count of conspiracy and currently serving an 18-month prison sentence in Alexandria, Virginia.
Robert Driscoll, Butina’s lawyer, confirmed a relationship existed between his client and Mr. Byrne, The New York Times reported last week.
An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on the relationship, The Times reported.