Former FBI Director James Comey denied claims made by Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock, about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Byrne has claimed to multiple news outlets, including the Washington Examiner, that the FBI directed him to rekindle a romantic relationship with Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who admitted in December to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate conservative American political circles.
The orders came from then-FBI agent Peter Strzok and top officials in the Obama administration, including Comey, Byrne has alleged without providing evidence.
Comey called the allegations “ridiculous.” "The FBI doesn't work that way," Comey told CNN on Thursday.
Both a lawyer for Strzok and the FBI have declined to comment to the Washington Examiner.
Byrne, 57, revealed in July he had a sexual relationship with Butina after she approached him at a libertarian convention in Las Vegas in July 2015. Byrne said he held a low-level security clearance at the time and reached out to the U.S. government for approval to get to know Butina.
After receiving a “green light,” the two began a romantic relationship, which ended in March 2016. The FBI asked him four months later to rekindle the relationship, he said. Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, confirmed the 30-year-old had a relationship with Byrne.
“The second period, I did it because I was instructed to rekindle it. However, I decided that was not the right thing to do,” Byrne told the Washington Examiner. “But I was told where the orders came from, and the orders came from high enough that I accepted the orders. I just want America to know that I didn’t lay a finger on her that second time.”
The multimillionaire said the second phase of their relationship lasted until March 2017.
Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison in April, with credit for about half of it already served. She is scheduled to be released from a Florida prison at the end of October and deported back to Russia.
Byrne stepped down as CEO of the e-commerce company on Thursday after his comments about the investigation led the retailer’s shares to plummet more than 30%.