Madison Cawthorn Laughs Off Suggestions His Wife Was Russian Honeypot

Representative Madison Cawthorn has criticized a "conspiracy theory" that his soon-to-be ex-wife is part of a Russian plot following the resurfacing of a video where he discussed how the two met.

In a 2020 interview with Stephanie Hamill of right-wing site The Daily Caller, Cawthorn told a story of how he was introduced to his wife, Cristina Bayardelle Cawthorn, at a fake CrossFit competition after being invited to the event by a U.S. army captain he had originally met in a casino in St. Petersburg, Russia.

That video led to some social media users to speculate about the possibility that Cristina Bayardelle Cawthorn was part of a Russian "honeypot" operation or that Cawthorn himself is a Russian agent. There is no evidence to support these claims.

A honeypot is the term for an intelligence operation often involving a woman engaging in a romantic relationship with a target in order to compromise them. It has often been a feature of spy fiction.

Cawthorn, a Republican who represents North Carolina's 11th congressional district, took to Twitter on Monday and appeared to laugh off the conspiracy theory.

"Left-wing losers still bitter over their debunked Russia Hoax are spreading lies about me," Cawthorn wrote.

"They love to slam 'conspiracy theories.' They are the true conspiracy theorists," he added.

In a later tweet, Cawthorn shared screenshots of two Twitter users— executive director of Occupy Democrats Grant Stern and Fred Wellman—questioning the story of how he met his wife, including the congressman's claim about the man in St. Petersburg. He also shared screenshots of tweets from those same people criticizing Republicans for supporting conspiracy theories.

"Amazing," Cawthorn wrote, adding a laughing cry emoji. "These people are unwell."

Stern had shared the video of Cawthorn discussing how he met his wife, and wrote: "Madison Cawthorn's divorce just went from boring information to national security concern in about 77 seconds of interview time with the Daily Caller."

"This does not sound a normal meet-cute story whatsoever. Very few of these stories involving Russia are," Stern said.

Retweeting Stern, Wellman had written: "OK. Wait. He met an American Army Captain from Miami in a St. Petersburg, Russia casino? Why would a U.S. Army officer be in a Russian casino? I have questions."

Stern and Wellman were not the only social media users raising questions about how Cawthorn met his wife and if there could be potential Russian government involvement.

Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who has long been the subject of strong criticism by conservatives, suggested on Twitter that Cawthorn appeared "nervous" at one point during the interview and that "[w]e lack a lot of context."

"But it's clear there's something unusual—whether he's nervous or lying or something else—about how he found himself in St P," Strzok said. "Is he some nefarious Russian penetration? Almost certainly not. Is there something more here? Almost certainly yes."

Cawthorn announced on December 22 that he and his wife would divorce after less than nine months of marriage. The video from 2020 gained renewed attention online following that announcement.

Madison Cawthorn Speaks at CPAC
U.S. Rep Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on July 09, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. Cawthorn has laughed off speculation that his soon-to-be ex-wife was part of a Russian "honeypot" operation. Brandon Bell/Getty Images