The chief executive of Overstock.com resigned Thursday, saying he was “far too controversial” after disclosing he had aided in a “deep state” investigation into the 2016 election and was romantically involved with a Russian agent.
Patrick M. Byrne had led the e-commerce retailer for two decades.
“Though patriotic Americans are writing me in support, my presence may affect and complicate all manner of business relationships,” he told shareholders in a letter Thursday. “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 confirmed in a company news release last week that he had been romantically involved with Russian agent Maria Butina, who is in prison for allegedly plotting to gain access to the conservative elite. He also said he had been aiding federal authorities, whom he called “the Men in Black,” since 2015 in their “Clinton investigation” and “Russia investigation.”
The investigation “turned out to be less about law enforcement and more about political espionage conducted against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and to a lesser degree, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz),” he said in a statement last week. He did not provide more specifics.
Shares of Overstock.com fell 36 percent following the initial disclosures. On Thursday, shares jumped more than 9 percent.
In a meandering and sometimes bizarre letter, Byrne said that his rabbi had helped him realize he should speak publicly about his role in federal investigations.
“If the hors d’oeuvre that was served recently caused the market such indigestion, it is not going to be in shareholder interest for me to be around if and when any main course is served,” Byrne wrote in his resignation letter.
“I wish all shareholders a smooth and level road,” he concluded. “And don’t forget to shop Overstock.com!”
Jonathan E. Johnson III, who oversees the company’s blockchain subsidiary, has been appointed interim chief executive, Overstock.com said. Kamelia Aryafar, Overstock’s chief algorithms officer, will replace Byrne on the company’s board.
Overstock got its start in 1997 as an Internet marketplace for excess inventory. Byrne took it over in 1999 and turned it into an e-commerce giant that specializes in home goods, furniture and decor. The Salt Lake City-based company posted sales of $1.8 billion in 2018.