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FILE: Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne (Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
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Overstock CEO Resigns; Longtime Company Member Named Interim CEO

MIDVALE, Utah – The CEO of locally based Overstock.com has resigned just over a week after claims he was involved with the Russian Investigation and encouraged by the FBI to sustain a romantic relationship with a Russian agent.

Patrick Byrne stepped down from his role with the company on August 22, leaving longtime associate Jonathan Johnson at the head as interim CEO of the billion-dollar company.

Johnson is a familiar face at Overstock’s headquarters, having served as the company’s president and on its board of directors.

He also sought the Republican nomination in Utah’s 2016 gubernatorial election.

On Friday, Johnson spoke with KSL 5 news about the at-times controversial founder of Overstock.com’s resignation.

“I haven’t been following what others have been saying,” Johnson said. “I do know what Patrick said. Based on my long history with him, I’m a believer in Patrick Byrne.”

Johnson shared Byrne had talked about leaving the company in the past and they had discussed a plan of succession with the board of directors.

“When it actually happened, yeah it was a surprise,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to see the person who has been here from the beginning, leading us from the beginning, leave and that was a surprise.”

Byrne quit in the midst of his public declarations of a “deep state,” alleging he aided in the Russian Investigation and sustained, under the FBI’s direction, a romantic relationship with Maria Butina, a woman accused of being a secret agent for the Russian Government. Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to act as a Russian agent in the U.S. without registering with the Justice Department.

“He is involved in this investigation in the government,” Johnson said. “If he felt it was a good idea to separate from the company, good for him.”

Johnson is distancing the company from Byrne’s statements while focusing on future ventures.

“He has really stepped away and he’s leaving it to me and his team he has put in place to steer the ship from here on out,” he said. “My vision is the same vision that we’ve had for the last several years. We are building a retail business that can grow in a sustainable, profitable way. We are a technology company. We use technology in our business. We think blockchain is the technology of the future. I see that piece of the business in 20 years being a very, very significant piece.”

In terms of Byrne’s statements, Johnson remained supportive.

“I’ve worked for Patrick for 17 years,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen him make statements about manipulation on Wall Street that people thought were crazy and outlandish that proved to be spot on true. What he is saying about the government, he knows more than I do but I have enough history with Patrick, that if he says it happened, I’m confident he’s right.”

In his resignation letter Thursday, Byrne maintained his claims while saying “his presence may affect and complicate all manner of business relationships” for the company. Byrne also shared he had been contemplating the possibility of resigning for just over a year.

“In July I came forward to a small set of journalists regarding my involvement in certain government matters,” he said in part of his resignation letter. “Doing so was not my first choice, but I was reminded of the damage done to our nation for three years and felt my duty as a citizen precluded me from staying silent any longer. So, I came forward in as carefully and well-managed fashion as I could. The news that I shared is bubbling (however haphazardly) into the public. 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. 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.”

According to Johnson, the five-person Board of Directors, of which he is a member, will make the final decision on who will be the next CEO.

“I think it’s good for the board to pause,” Johnson said. “This resignation came to us suddenly. I certainly think I’m a good fit and it wouldn’t surprise me if the board chose me but that’s really not my ultimate choice at the end of the day. We’re 24hours into this, the Board is not actively looking elsewhere, we’ll meet in the coming weeks to decide what we do.”

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