Patrick Byrne resigned Thursday as president and chief executive of (Steve C. Wilson/AP)

Unlike most interesting stories, this one began with a news release.

“ CEO Comments on Deep State, Withholds Further Comment,” the Aug. 12 message on the company’s website was titled. The content of the release was simple: two bullet points confirming components of reporting by Fox News regular Sara Carter and a statement that the chief executive, Patrick Byrne, would offer no further comment.

That would have been easier to digest had the bullet points contained less dramatic allegations. But in the news release Byrne claimed to have assisted “in what are now known as the ‘Clinton Investigation’ and the ‘Russian Investigation’ ” beginning in 2015; “in fact,” he wrote, “I am the notorious ‘missing Chapter 1’ of the Russian investigation.” This was the third time he had worked with the “Men in Black,” he wrote, referring to the FBI, but it “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)."

The release concluded: “[H]aving lived in places lacking Rule of Law and having witnessed the consequences of its absence, I plan on sitting back and watching the United States Department of Justice re-establish Rule of Law in our country.”

On Thursday evening, Byrne broke his pledge, appearing for lengthy interviews on Fox News and CNN. (Earlier in the day, he had resigned his position with Overstock.) In each interview, he alleged that he had been instructed by “Men in Black” — a term used for bad actors within the government — to carry on a sexual relationship with a Russian woman. The request that he do so, he said, came indirectly from senior officials he called “X, Y and Z.” At different points in the conversations Byrne stated that one of those letters applied to former FBI director James B. Comey. He further claimed that former FBI agent Peter Strzok was also involved.

In case your Russia-probe-Bingo-card is still incomplete, the Russian woman at issue is one with whom you are probably familiar: Maria Butina. Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison earlier this year after having worked on behalf of the Russian government to build relationships with political figures in the United States without having registered as a foreign agent.

As the news release states, this was all documented last month by Fox News’s Carter. Her telling is a bit simpler to follow than Byrne’s TV appearances, so let’s start there.

Byrne told Carter that he had worked with the FBI twice before, once after the death of a friend and again in the lead-up to the last recession. He also claims to have had low-level security clearance, so when Butina contacted him at an event in 2015 — the same event where she asked a question of then-candidate Donald Trump — Byrne reported the unusual encounter to the FBI. He claims that the FBI signed off on his interacting with Butina, skeptical that she was a Russian agent, and he began a relationship with her.

At some point, Byrne told Carter, he began to believe that Butina was being used by both American and Russian intelligence agencies, though it’s not clear why. (It’s worth noting that for years Byrne managed a website called, which includes a number of odd, rabbit-hole-esque screeds alleging various conspiracies.) According to Carter, Byrne said that Butina told him she “want[ed] to meet anyone in the Hillary [Clinton] campaign, the [Sen. Ted] Cruz, the [Sen. Marco] Rubio campaigns,” referring to those individuals’ 2016 presidential bids. She sought the meetings at the request of Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician and banker with whom she was working in the United States, with the goal of having contacts within whatever administration took office in January 2017, Byrne told Carter.

Byrne said he broke off their relationship but eventually resumed it at the behest of the government. That’s where Carter’s story ends.

During his Fox and CNN interviews, Byrne added new details and broad new allegations.

Byrne claimed to Fox’s Martha MacCallum that Butina was hoping to build contacts with people in Trump’s campaign, as well. He claims that Butina contacted someone in Clinton’s campaign. He claims she didn’t end up contacting the Trump campaign, but not for lack of trying.

“At one point,” Byrne told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “I learned, in several weeks, she’s going to some convention in the South, I thought it was Tennessee and the Conservative Convention. [Donald Trump Jr.]'s going to come, be taken on a Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock out the back of his hotel, taken up this road, and driven up the road to her hotel, spend 60 minutes with her.” He said he told the FBI about it.

That plan tracks with one of the lingering mysteries of the Russia probe. In late May 2016, Trump Jr. and Torshin met briefly at a dinner associated with the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Kentucky. Torshin had reached out multiple times to the Trump campaign through intermediaries and been rebuffed but still ended up meeting the then-candidate’s son.

Byrne claims that Butina was there, too, at a private dinner — an allegation for which there’s no public evidence. (Torshin isn’t mentioned in the report on Russian interference compiled by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.) Byrne further alleges that the government allowed that meeting to happen after he informed them about it, implying that Trump’s team was being set up. He also said, at another point, that the planned meeting with Trump Jr. didn’t happen.

How he would have known about such a meeting isn’t clear. Byrne claims he had stopped seeing Butina in March of that year at the request of the FBI — meaning that they weren’t dating “several weeks” before the NRA convention.

The more significant new allegation Byrne made Thursday night is that he had been approached again in July 2016 to rekindle his affair with Butina, on orders from senior FBI officials.

He claims to have been working with the FBI on a corruption investigation that was really “more about blackmail … on Hillary Clinton.” He didn’t give details.

“And then, when that was done, about three months later in July, July 1 or so, they came back to me, and said: ‘Boy, what a mistake we made. Russia! You’re right. There’s this Russia, Russia, Russia, this gal Maria, oh, my gosh, highest national priority,’ ” Byrne told Cuomo. “And they said, and the very honorable men and women, the Men in Black, they said: ‘We want to be clear. This never happens in the United States. We are the good guys. Oh, we’re not — we don’t work like the bad guys. But we need to ask you to rekindle a romantic relationship with Maria Butina.’ "

Cuomo asked: “Members of the FBI that you’re sure were members of the FBI asked you to do this?”

“And I know their names,” Byrne said. “And they said these orders are coming from the personal — this is being personally supervised by Y, and it’s being — and at the request of X. And then two months later, they said Mr. Z has added his name.”

He wouldn’t identify two of those individuals, but he did tell MacCallum that if you were to go to Comey and “say the name Patrick Byrne, you will see a former director of the FBI crap his pants.” To Cuomo, he claimed that Comey was Z. In a subsequent statement to CNN, Comey said the claim was “ridiculous.”

According to Byrne, Peter Strzok, the FBI agent, was not X, Y or Z but, instead, just an “errand boy.” Strzok, who led the FBI’s counterintelligence arm in 2016, is a central figure in a narrative popular on the right in which the entire Russia probe was a function not of an effort to root out Russian malfeasance but, instead, a function of anti-Trump bias by Strzok and others. One branch of this theory includes speculation that the probe itself didn’t begin on July 31, 2016, as has been widely reported but began much earlier, targeting Trump for months. Byrne’s story of outreach in early July would seem to bolster that.

Except that it doesn’t. Setting aside the particular allegations about what Byrne says he was asked to do, there was reason in early July for the FBI to have renewed concern about Russia: the revelation in mid-June that Russian intelligence officers had hacked into the Democratic National Committee and begun releasing stolen material.

Nor does Byrne offer any evidence for Comey’s or Strzok’s involvement in the alleged request, telling MacCallum simply that he had seen Strzok’s 2018 congressional testimony and pieced together that he must be involved, having that suspicion later confirmed by unnamed sources.

Byrne said he gave all of this information to the Justice Department shortly after the Mueller investigation concluded.

“I am highly confident,” he told Cuomo, “that [Attorney General] Bill Barr and the Department of Justice will be providing those names on an indictment someday — someday in the not-too-distant future.”

Government officials confirmed to CNN that Byrne had met with the Justice Department and that at least some aspects of his story were believable, if not verified. It’s hard not to notice, though, how frequently his most speculative claims overlap with existing rumors popular on the conservative right (ones often fostered by Carter): Strzok and Comey being involved, the July timeline, suggestions that the FBI was trying to set Trump up … though not really explaining how that was going to work. Even that comment about the government officials getting indicted by Barr’s Justice Department mirrors a popular pro-Trump idea.

Byrne told Cuomo that as early as December 2015, he believed that the government was letting Butina contact prominent figures so that they had a “can o’ scandal” ready to deploy.

“Are they letting this happen so someday they’re going to pull the pin, and there’s some explosion … of Russian scandal?” he claims to have thought at that point. “That couldn’t possibly be.”

It does seem a bit convenient.