With a career-ending affair with a Russian agent, attacks on a professional nemesis he named “the Sith Lord” and constant references to a “deep state,” Patrick Byrne often pushed conspiracy theories and found himself ensnared in controversy — long before the former chief executive of online retailer Overstock promoted Donald Trump’s baseless claims of a rigged election.
Byrne, one of corporate America’s most vocal proponents of the former president’s falsehoods about the 2020 election, will be the latest figure from Trump’s orbit to meet with House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The longtime cryptocurrency advocate is scheduled to meet privately with the committee on Friday.
Byrne’s involvement in efforts to overturn the election were revealed Tuesday during the committee’s hearing. The former furniture industry executive joined lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, as well as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, in the Oval Office on Dec. 18, 2020, days after the electoral college certified that Joe Biden had won the presidential election. While many of Trump’s legal advisers had accepted that he had lost the election, Byrne and others were pushing an idea that the president could use the National Guard to seize voting machines.
Byrne’s Oval Office access appeared to agitate those staffers hoping to redirect Trump’s attention away from conspiracy theories.
“First of all, the Overstock person — I didn’t even know who this guy was,” former White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a videotaped interview aired Tuesday during the hearing.
“I looked at him, and I said, ‘Who are you?’ ” Cipollone said he asked Byrne.
Although the White House staff was unfamiliar with Byrne, his unfounded hypotheticals about how the election could have been stolen captured Trump’s ear. At some point, the meeting moved to the Yellow Oval Room in the White House residence. As the fighting between White House aides and the conspiracy theorists continued, Trump served the group Swedish meatballs, which were a hit with Byrne, who was “nonstop housing meatballs — he ate so many meatballs,” according to one person familiar with the gathering.
Byrne’s embrace of the baseless claims about Dominion’s voting machines led to the company filing a lawsuit seeking $1.7 billion in damages.
Before making headlines for his politics, Byrne led Overstock for two decades before resigning in 2019 after his affair with Maria Butina, a Russian woman who tried to penetrate conservative American political circles, became public.
Byrne said he had been romantically involved for three years with Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who served 15 months in prison for trying to influence U.S. policy ahead of the 2016 election. She later was deported.
Since the 2020 election, the 59-year-old Byrne has become increasingly vocal about his support for Trump and the president’s false claims of widespread voter fraud. The multimillionaire financed a film called “The Big Rig,” which encouraged right-wing media outlets, podcasts and social media outlets to promote false claims about the 2020 election.
In addition to his intense belief that Biden did not legitimately win the presidency, Byrne has regularly expressed support for other conspiracy theories: He accused a competitor he named after a Star Wars villain of trying to take down Overstock. He toured the country in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, giving anti-vaccine speeches, and he has spread misinformation about covid-19 on websites and via social media.
Byrne grew up in New England, the son of an insurance industry executive who had befriended noted investor Warren Buffett. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Chinese from Dartmouth before going on to become a Marshall Scholar at the University of Cambridge. He later became a teaching fellow at Stanford, where he earned his doctorate. Byrne would eventually work for Buffett himself, whom he called his “Omaha rabbi,” before launching out on his own. He held a number of executive positions at smaller companies before becoming chief executive of Overstock.
At the time of his resignation from Overstock, Byrne, who had a low-level security clearance, claimed to be working with federal authorities 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 an August 2019 statement.