It didn’t get a lot of media coverage on Thursday, but Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, resigned from his company this week as part of a move to assist Attorney General William Barr with the Spygate probe.
Byrne, recall, is the person who acted essentially as a confidential informant – and also, apparently, as a civilian “handler” of Maria Butina – in the FBI operation revolving around Butina’s link to the Trump campaign. Byrne doesn’t like putting it that way, because he says it wasn’t really the FBI acting through normal channels that was using him for this purpose. It was just a few senior officials, whom he names as Peter Strzok, Bill Priestap, John Carlin, Andrew McCabe, and James Comey.
That said, it sounds like Byrne only realized after the fact what was going on; i.e., the purpose for which he was being given directions to engage with Butina. At the time – piecing the operation from his perspective together from his comments to Fox News – he seems to have been working with people other than Strzok. He later figured out, in the summer of 2018 when Strzok testified before Congress, that it was Strzok (and Strzok’s boss Priestap, and the higher-ups in their chain) whose orders his own handlers were carrying out.
The video of his interview with Martha McCallum is below. Some viewers are likely to find it off-putting, as Byrne is not a focused communicator. (Emphatically not.) You’ll have to decide for yourselves how credible it sounds. Byrne’s affect is straightforward and earnest, but he goes off on tangents at the drop of a hat. If you don’t know the facts of Spygate in detail, he’ll be hard to follow.
I do know them in exhaustive detail, and I agree with sundance at Conservative Treehouse that what Byrne says tracks with information we already have. And it’s important to point out that it doesn’t introduce any glaring conflicts with established understandings. If what Byrne says pans out, it enhances our understanding and illuminates what was going on.
Byrne says he has given Barr – he references John Durham – everything he has. So from here we need to let it play out and see what it ultimately means. Byrne left Overstock.com this week because he expects his information to be so incendiary that elements of the “Deep State” will probably try to destroy him, and he hopes to spare the company when that happens.
There is a lot to unpack from his interview with McCallum. I will only address two points now. One is the potential “bombshell,” buried in the 19th minute of the interview and only a few words long. (Video below.)
Byrne is discussing a second phase of the operation involving Butina, which he dates to the first of July 2016. He speaks of that phase lasting months – the impression seems to be six or seven – during which he was asked to resume a relationship with her that had ended earlier in 2016. The reason for this was that it had become clear Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, and the higher-ups giving orders to his (Byrne’s) handlers wanted Butina back in Byrne’s orbit as she was being vectored at Trump.
Byrne’s point in this discussion is that he was basically faking the resumption of a romantic relationship with Butina for the FBI’s benefit, apparently so that Byrne could do what his handlers were asking, but without deceiving or hurting Butina. She apparently knew they weren’t romantically involved at that point.
However, at the very end of this passage, Byrne utters these remarkable words:
That entire period that I was being instructed to romance her, I created the impression, and it was all a lie. And I did that, and at the same time, I set up X, Y, and Z for some felony charges.
These sentences come between the 19:40 and 19:49 mark in the video.
Who or what are X, Y, and Z? According to Byrne, they are three officials at the very top of the Obama administration. He declined to name them, and at one point, he says emphatically that he is not saying President Obama was one of them. (He doesn’t rule that out; he just says he’s not saying it.)
In other words, what Byrne knows about the orders he was given, and whose authority they traced to, would implicate those officials in felony acts.
He says he has given all this to Durham. The other point from the interview, also made in passing, is that Byrne’s engagement with Butina involved getting her connected with the Clinton campaign, as well as with Rubio, Cruz, and Trump. This was in 2015 and early 2016. Byrne believes the purpose of the Hillary connection was to gain leverage for blackmailing her. There would be a lot to analyze from that belief on his part; it’s not an outlandish idea on its face, but it would certainly sharpen the big question Byrne raises himself: why the U.S. federal authorities would let Butina, presumed to be a Russian operative, worm her way into those four campaigns, and indeed, have him help her to do it.
That’s a really good question. Essentially, it’s the question. In spite of Patrick Byrne’s garbled, erratic communication style, what he says parses sensibly in light of what we already know, and has the potential to bring a lot of threads together – if it’s true.
It’s important to highlight the caveat Fox News puts on this (top link): that they asked former acting AG Matthew Whitaker his opinion of Byrne’s information, and Whitaker’s bottom line was, “It’s hard for me to say.” In other words, he didn’t commit one way or another, either on the specific allegations Byrne is making, or on an assessment of Byrne’s credibility.
Whitaker in fact said the following:
All of this can be corroborated. That’s the key. This whole situation has to be corroborated and the nice thing about John Durham is that he has the full picture of everything that was feeding into this investigation.
That sounds temperate and fair-minded, like someone who himself doesn’t fear what may come of this, and isn’t trying to preemptively characterize it. That tells me there may be something to it. If Whitaker thought it was rank nonsense, I think we’d hear a shade more negativitiy from him. If he feared exposure from it, the negative reaction would probably be off the charts. Whitaker doesn’t seem to have a stake in spinning it either way.
But Whitaker is going to let Durham and Barr be the ones to validate it and derive context and meaning from it. There’s a lot more to say, but we’ll leave it there for now.