Share prices for Utah-based online discount retailer Overstock.com have plunged this week, after its eccentric CEO Patrick Byrne claimed late Monday he’d played a key role in investigating the scandal over Russian interference in U.S. elections.
In a bizarre statement circulated on business wires, the 57-year-old multimillionaire confirmed details published by self-described investigative journalist Sara Carter, including that he had a romantic relationship with alleged Russian spy Maria Butina — while, Byrne said, he was acting as an informant for the FBI.
Byrne claimed in his statement that the liaison occurred while he “assisted in what are now known as the ‘Clinton Investigation’ and the ‘Russian Investigation’” in 2015, with FBI encouragement.
“In fact,” Byrne said in the frenetic, four-paragraph news release, “I am the notorious ‘missing Chapter 1’ of the Russian investigation.”
Butina is in jail after pleading guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent in the U.S. without notifying American authorities, the lone Russian national arrested in U.S. probes of interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Shares in Midvale-based Overstock.com, which Byrne purchased in 1999, have since fallen 38.7%, from $26.06 early Monday to $15.97 at Wall Street’s closing bell late Wednesday.
That stock price has swung in the last two years between a high of $84.35 in January 2018 and a low of $9.48 in June.
In addition to locating his business in Utah, Byrne has been deeply involved in Utah politics. In the 2016 governor’s race he poured $850,000 into the campaign of former Overstock executive Jonathan Johnson, leading Gov. Gary Herbert to criticize Byrne as Johnson’s “sugar daddy." Johnson, after topping Herbert in the GOP Convention, was soundly defeated in the primary.
Previously, Byrne had been the leading funder of the school voucher movement in Utah, with he and his family pumping more than $4 million into a campaign to defeat a citizens’ referendum. That 2007 ballot measure, which passed handily, was the death knell for a Legislature-approved voucher program.
Byrne, who is known for outlandish statements, also referred in the Monday news release to advice from his “Omaha Rabbi” and to helping the “Men in Black,” an allusion to the series of science-fiction action comedy movies of the name.
After Byrne “put the pieces together in July 2018,” his statement continued, he said he realized that instead of helping law enforcement, he’d been part of what he claimed was political espionage against Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and, “to a lesser extent,” U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Byrne said he reported his alleged role to “a Congressman and a senior military officer” — without naming them — as well as to the U.S. Department of Justice and “a small set of journalists,” with Carter, who is based in Washington, D.C., among them.
Carter’s stories on his claims “are accurate,” Byrne claimed, adding that he would “speak no more on the subject.”
Earlier Monday, Byrne said in a TV interview with Stuart Varney on Fox Business, “I think we are about to see the biggest scandal in American history,” according to Market Watch.
The website called his tale “an insane Russian-spy drama,” with Byrne casting himself as the star. It noted that his statements came as Byrne has been seeking a buyer for the e-commerce company, which has been losing money.