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Overstock.com CEO Resigns after Disclosing Relationship with Russian Agent Maria Butina

Accused Russian agent Maria Butina pleads guilty in this courtroom sketch in Washington, D.C., December 13, 2018. (Bill Hennessy/Reuters)

Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne stepped down Thursday amid the backlash to his disclosure of a romantic relationship with Russian agent Maria Butina.

Byrne caused Overstock’s shares to plummet last week after he admitted to carrying on a romantic relationship with Butina from 2015 to 2016. The fallout from his disclosure complicated “all manner of business relationships,” he said in a statement announcing his resignation.

“Thus, while I believe that I did what was necessary for the good of the country, for the good of the firm,” he wrote, “I am in the sad position of having to sever ties with Overstock, both as C.E.O. and board member.”

Byrne issued a statement on August 12th confirming a series of articles by Fox News contributor Sara Carter that exposed his relationship with Butina, a Russian national who pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the U.S. earlier this year.

Carter’s work detailed how Byrne became involved in the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election due to his relationship with Butina. Byrne said he felt compelled to go public with his role in the investigation after becoming concerned about the way in which the Department of Justice was handling the investigation into Butina’s conduct.

The Overstock executive met Butina at a libertarian conference in 2015 and subsequently contacted the FBI when she began to express interest in meeting with individuals associated with the Clinton and Trump presidential campaigns.

In his statement, Byrne said that his interactions with the FBI were “less about law enforcement and more about political espionage conducted against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.”

Butina is serving an 18-month prison sentence for attempting to infiltrate conservative political organizations at the direction of Alexander Torshin, the former deputy governor of Russia’s central bank. Torshin and Butina founded a gun-rights group in Russia and presented themselves as allies to conservative American groups such as the NRA.

Butina is set to be released in October. Overstock’s shares were up more than 10 percent on Thursday after Byrne’s announcement.

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