A federal counterintelligence investigation is looking into possible Chinese intelligence operations targeting President Trump, after Secret Service agents arrested a Chinese woman, Yujing Zhang, who infiltrated Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Zhang gave employees differing accounts of why she was there, and was found with four cell phones, two passports, electronic devices and a thumb-drive containing malware.
What’s more, the Miami Herald reports that federal investigators are looking into possible connections between Zhang and South Florida massage parlor entrepreneur Li “Cindy” Yang – who has been accused of selling access to President Trump. Of note, Yang previously owned the Jupiter, FL day spa where authorities conducted a high-profile prostitution bust which netted New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
The ongoing investigation has also recently focused on Li “Cindy” Yang, the sources told the Herald. Yang is a South Florida massage parlor entrepreneur who has promoted events at Mar-a-Lago with ads targeting Chinese business executives hoping to gain access to Trump and his family. The investigation — spearheaded by the FBI — began before the Herald revealed Yang’s business of selling access last month and focused on other Chinese nationals doing business in the region.
Before her arrest, Zhang was unknown to federal authorities. Now, investigators with the FBI Counterintelligence Division in South Florida are trying to figure out who Zhang is, whether she is involved in a possible Chinese intelligence mission and whether there are links to Yang’s social events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. –Miami Herald
Zhang initially told a Mar-a-Lago employee that she was a member who simply wanted to use the pool – and was admitted amid confusion over whether she was a member’s daughter.
Once she got inside, Zhang changed her story – telling a front desk receptionist that she was there to attend the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association event scheduled for that evening, which had been promoted by Cindy Yang, only to be cancelled.
Zhang, born in 1986 according to court documents, has not been charged with any crimes related to espionage, according to The Herald. Yang, meanwhile, said in a Wednesday statement that she has no ties to China’s government, and says she doesn’t personally know or sell access to President Trump.
Congressional Democrats have sounded the alarm over Zhang’s ability to penetrate Trump’s Florida club.
“The apparent ease with which Ms. Zhang gained access to the facility during the president’s weekend visit raises concerns about the system for screening visitors, including the reliance on determinations made by Mar-a-Lago employees,” reads a joint letter from Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA), Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
“As the White House Communications Agency and Secret Service continue to establish several secure areas at Mar-a-Lago for handling classified information when the president travels there, these potential vulnerabilities have serious national security implications,” continues the letter – which requests that the FBI and Director of National Intelligence coordinate with Secret Service to establish what needs to be done to “As the White House Communications Agency and Secret Service continue to establish several secure areas at Mar-a-Lago for handling classified information when the president travels there, these potential vulnerabilities have serious national security implications.”
The Democrats also requested an immediate response to a previous letter, dated March 15, that called for a counterintelligence investigation into Yang’s connections to Chinese government officials and the risks her activities could pose to U.S. national security interests.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said it’s too early for Congress to consider specific action in response to Zhang’s arrest at Mar-a-Lago.
“The FBI will be looking into it, that’s their job, that’s it,” Rubio said. “But I would hate to speculate based on what we know so far.”
Rubio, who has criticized Chinese telecom company Huawei over concerns that its equipment could be used for Chinese government surveillance, said Zhang’s arrest is a piece of a larger threat posed by foreign nationals to all executive and legislative branch employees, as well as defense contractors.
“That’s always a threat, but I don’t know enough about this person or this case to make a bold pronouncement on what happened here or what this is about,” Rubio said. –Miami Herald
In a Wednesday CNN interview, President Trump said he’s not worried about Chinese espionage at Mar-a-Lago, saying “I think that was just a fluke situation.”
President Trump, asked if he's concerned the Chinese are trying to spy on his Mar-a-Lago resort: "No, I'm not concerned at all." pic.twitter.com/6A7paeKjzI
— Josh Campbell (@joshscampbell) April 3, 2019
Possible connection to Yang…
As The Herald reports, Zhang traveled from Shanghai, China to South Floida for a “United Nations Friendship Event,” as a guest of a person known only as “Charles.” An associate of Yang named Charles Lee, meanwhile, pushed out advertisements on Chinese social media for various events. He’s also the founder of the for-profit United Nations Chinese Friendship Association.
Although authorities pointed out there was no event occurring by that exact name, Yang had previously been promoting two Mar-a-Lago events that day: an “International Leaders Elite Forum,” and a Safari Night gala, a fundraiser for a youth charity. The events were canceled after intense news coverage of Yang and her activities, something Zhang might not have realized.
Yang pitched the combination of March 30 events as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for overseas Chinese clients to meet members of the Trump family and other top politicians in her Chinese-language ads targeting overseas buyers.
An associate of Yang named Charles Lee also pushed out the advertisements on Chinese social media. –Miami Herald
Read the rest of the Herald‘s report, which includes their extensive research on Yang and the alleged access scheme, here.