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Byrne, who was born in , in Indiana, credits his father for his preoccupation with the possibility of societal collapse. John Byrne wrote his senior thesis, at Rutgers, on the fragility of the Social Security system, and, at the dinner table, he shared his economic thinking with Patrick, his older brothers, Mark and John, and their mother, Dorothy. In , John Byrne was hired to run Geico, the automobile-insurance company based in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which was going bankrupt. According to Byrne, in the next decade John Byrne built Geico into a household name.
Byrne earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and Asian studies at Dartmouth. He spent a year studying in Beijing, where he contracted hepatitis C while being treated for a head injury. In , Byrne was given a diagnosis of testicular cancer. The disease had spread throughout his body, and he underwent three open-chest surgeries in nine days.
He was later invited to participate in the trial of an early-stage experimental drug. Byrne claims that, of the six participants, he was the sole survivor. Many of his friends mentioned his medical history as a cause for some of his more mercurial behavior. You view the world as a very short runway, not a long runway.
Byrne studied at Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar, then, at Stanford, wrote his philosophy thesis on the intellectual origins of the U. Buffett was a mentor to Byrne, and in he asked Byrne to run one of his companies, the Cincinnati-based uniform manufacturer Fechheimer Brothers. The following year, Byrne invested four million dollars in Discounts Direct, a struggling company based in Salt Lake City that sold furniture, electronics, and other inventory that distributors wanted to get rid of.
Byrne renamed the company Overstock and resolved to price products as cheaply as possible, and to keep costs low. In , he introduced a sub-brand called Worldstock, which sold products created by artisans in developing countries. Byrne had an idiosyncratic style. His investor letters featured boxing analogies and quotes from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu.
He was regarded by the media and by investors as, alternately, a maverick business visionary and a narcissistic leader whose family wealth insulated him from the consequences of his actions. As rival online retailers, including Amazon and Wayfair, successfully raised capital, he struggled to get outside funding for Overstock. Byrne has often said that he sought backing from dozens of venture capitalists—the number has ranged, in his telling, from fifty-five to eighty-five—all of whom turned him down or offered terms that he found unacceptable.
Nevertheless, in , Overstock showed its first quarterly profit. That year, Byrne sought to raise capital by selling Overstock shares to the public without the help of investment banks, through a so-called Dutch auction. Two years later, when Google went public, it used a version of a Dutch auction.
Byrne was more focussed on expanding his company than on profits, and he launched several new businesses under the Overstock umbrella—including one that sold used cars—which he later abandoned. The early two-thousands were an active period for short sellers—traders who specialize in finding troubled companies and betting that their stock will go down. Other funds also established short positions in Overstock. This inevitably led to further negative press.
In , the S. Byrne claimed that this, too, was the result of lobbying by short sellers. The selling of such phantom shares was possible because of a three-day lag that was built into the process of settling trades.
This weakness, Byrne believed, had the potential to destabilize the stock market, likely with disastrous consequences. Byrne became increasingly distracted from managing the company, spending most of his time gathering evidence and waging a publicity war against his adversaries. In August, , he filed a lawsuit against Rocker Partners, alleging that it had defamed Overstock and engaged in naked shorting. Milken was pardoned by Trump earlier this year. Byrne claimed on the call that he had been under surveillance and that his communications had been intercepted.
He also mentioned the New York attorney general at the time, Eliot Spitzer, referring to donations that he said Spitzer had received from hedge funds. The press seized on the bizarre way that he had communicated his allegations.
Several months later, John Byrne resigned as chairman of the Overstock board of directors. Judd Bagley joined Overstock in Byrne has claimed that his work exposing naked shorting resulted in death threats. After he went public with his allegations, he was summoned to a Thai restaurant in Great Neck, Long Island, where he and two associates met a man who warned them that Russian gangsters were planning to kill Byrne for having exposed a profitable source of income.
Around that time, Byrne said, someone threw a pair of garden shears through the window of the Manhattan restaurant that his girlfriend managed. Byrne arranged personal security for himself and several of his friends. Byrne also brought his findings about naked shorting to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which issued a letter acknowledging his research effort. In , the stock market began to collapse, the result of an extended period of reckless mortgage lending and the trading of mortgage securities.
The S. Byrne felt vindicated, but he barely stopped to celebrate. This discovery led Overstock to file an even larger case, against eleven brokerage firms, including Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. In , some of the big banks that Byrne had named in his second lawsuit settled their cases, too. In and , the remaining two defendants, Goldman and Merrill, settled with Overstock. In , Byrne began developing a new division of Overstock, Medici Ventures, investing in a half-dozen blockchain-based companies in areas such as voting and land titling, and in a blockchain securities exchange called TZero.
That year, Byrne gave a speech at the Institute of World Politics. He wore a gray, Mao-style collarless suit, and spoke with clarity and wit about the complex short-selling abuses he had helped uncover. He went on to draw a connection—it was not clear what kind—between these abuses and an international syndicate of organized crime, which he catalogued with disorienting rapidity.
The list included Italian and Russian mobsters, Milken, Islamic terrorists, and various banks and government agencies. The effect of the talk, a video of which is on YouTube, is to induce a sense that powerful figures, and the media, have been hiding vital information from the public. Byrne was shuffling around in his slippers, drinking kombucha and fretting about the coronavirus, which had surfaced in Seattle and New York City.
He introduced me to a friend who was staying with him for a few days. The friend said hello and then left. In December, she hosted a group of N. The boyfriend she mentioned was Paul Erickson, a fifty-four-year-old political operative who was paying many of her living expenses and was close to David Keene, the former head of the N. Erickson pleaded guilty in to money-laundering and wire-fraud charges, and in July was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.
If you feel like you want a break from your big-shot Republicans, let me know. Byrne says that he became increasingly suspicious, and continued to inform on Butina to the F. He was confused to find that his handlers seemed unfazed by his reports. People familiar with counterintelligence investigations have pointed out that F. That spring, Butina invited Byrne to a conference in St.
According to Byrne, she told him that he would have sixty minutes alone with President Vladimir Putin, with her as the translator. Finally, they asked him to break off the relationship with Butina. It was unlike me not to be kinder. She also says Byrne told her that he had met another woman, whom he wanted to marry. Byrne mentions in a post that, around this time, he was having serious health problems.
Friends say that they were deeply worried. In March, he took a leave of absence from Overstock. According to Luban and others, Byrne became disillusioned with the American electoral process, in particular the way it disadvantages third-party candidates. He was concerned about election fraud. He also hinted that political operatives had approached him about running for President.
Byrne claims that, in July, , his F. Seth Moore, a former Overstock executive, recalled that at the party Byrne told him that Butina was under surveillance, and asked him to keep an eye on her. As Byrne describes it, he wanted his F.
In his posts, Byrne often seems more concerned with the behavior of the F. Not long afterward, he writes, his F. They were angered by the publication of an article in the Daily Beast about Butina, and they pointedly asked him whether he had been a source. Their anger again surprised Byrne, who claims to have had nothing to do with the story. Byrne claims that it all really started a year earlier, when the F. In July, six armed F.
How can they now claim she had some devastating effect on national security? Around that time, Byrne watched television clips of the F. Strzok, who is vilified in far-right circles, led the F. According to Butina, Byrne later wrote her a letter saying that he had done something terrible and deeply regretted it.
Over the next two months, the reports suggested US intelligence agencies had traced the breaches back to Russian hackers. In July, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Wikileaks published 20, internal emails stolen by the hackers. US intelligence officials said they believed with "high confidence" that Russia was behind the operation, but the Trump campaign publicly refused to accept the findings.
Instead, at a press conference, Mr Trump caused outrage by inviting Russian hackers to target Hillary Clinton's controversial personal email server, saying: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30, emails that are missing". About the same time the hacking scandal was beginning to unfold, Mr Trump's then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was accused of accepting millions of dollars in cash for representing Russian interests in Ukraine and US, including dealings with an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While Mr Manafort was running the campaign, the Republican Party changed the language in its manifesto regarding the conflict in Ukraine, removing anti-Russian sentiment, allegedly at the behest of two Trump campaign representatives. Subsequently, further allegations were made in Ukraine about secret funds said to have been paid to Mr Manafort, and it has also been claimed that he secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to assist President Putin's political ends.
Mr Manafort has denied both allegations. He was found guilty in August of eight counts of financial fraud and tax evasion crimes. In September , he pleaded guilty to two remaining charges - and agreed to co-operate with the special counsel's investigation in exchange for a reduced jail sentence. Mr Trump continued to argue against the finding, claiming in a presidential debate that it "could be Russia, but it could also be China, it could also be lots of other people.
It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs pounds". The same day that the intelligence agencies released their findings, the explosive "Access Hollywood" recording emerged of Mr Trump's obscene remarks about women in An hour later, Wikileaks began dumping thousands more leaked Clinton emails. In response, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and levied new sanctions on Russia. The world awaited Mr Putin's response but he chose not retaliate.
Mr Trump, by then the president-elect, sided with the Russian president, tweeting: "Great move on delay by V. Putin - I always knew he was very smart! Mr Putin's decision not to respond in kind struck many as a canny PR move, but reportedly set off suspicions among US intelligence officials that Russia was confident the sanctions would not last. The same month, Mr Trump picked Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state, arguably the most important job in the cabinet.
The biggest hurdle for Mr Tillerson's confirmation? Close ties to Mr Putin. As CEO of the ExxonMobil oil company, Mr Tillerson cultivated a close personal relationship with the Russian leader, leading many to speculate on whether he was fit to serve as America's most senior diplomat. Mr Tillerson was sworn in as secretary of state on 2 February. In January, Buzzfeed published a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence official and Russia expert, which alleged that Moscow had compromising material on the then-president-elect, making him liable to blackmail.
Among the various memos in the dossier was an allegation that Mr Trump had been recorded by Russian security services consorting with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel. CNN revealed that President Obama and President-elect Trump had been briefed on the existence of the dossier by intelligence officials, and Buzzfeed went one further, publishing the entire thing.
In February, the most concrete and damaging Russia scandal finally surfaced, months after suspicions were raised among intelligence officials. He resigned as Mr Trump's national security adviser after 23 days on the job, saying he had "inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador" late last year.
Since leaving the White House, the Pentagon has launched an investigation into whether he failed to disclose payments from Russian and Turkish lobbyists that he was given for speeches and consulting work. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was being accused of lying at his confirmation hearing when he said he had had "no communications with the Russians" during the election campaign.
It later emerged that he too had met Mr Kislyak - at a private meeting in September and as part of a group of ambassadors in July last year. But he says his meetings with Mr Kislyak were related to his role as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and had nothing to do with the election campaign. But Mr Sessions recused himself from the FBI investigation into the Russian hacking claims, an investigation he is overseeing.
Two months into the Trump presidency, Mr Comey confirmed at a rare open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee that the agency was investigating alleged Russian interference in the election. The White House initially said it was over his handling of the inquiry into Hillary Clinton's emails. But Mr Trump later said "this Russia thing" was a factor. He also reportedly shared with them highly-sensitive "codeword" material relating to terrorism and airline safety, sending more shockwaves through Washington.
In his much anticipated testimony before a Senate panel, Mr Comey said that Mr Trump had asked him to pledge his loyalty, confirming previous media reports about a January meeting between the pair. Mr Comey said: "I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go. He said he had kept written memos on his meetings and phone calls with the president, fearing Mr Trump might lie.
He denied asking for Mr Comey's loyalty, although he added: "I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. Mr Trump has also questioned the neutrality of Robert Mueller , saying the special counsel's friendship with Mr Comey is "bothersome". He has criticised the FBI on numerous occasions and, in one tweet, said the organisation's reputation was "in tatters".
On 9 July came news of what was thought to be the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of President Trump's inner circle. But he insisted the lawyer had provided "no meaningful information" in a meeting that also included the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Mr Manafort.
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