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Federal probe focuses on Mar-a-Lago intruders, Cindy Yang

Mar-a-Lago: a top destination for Trump tourism

Mar-a-Lago has become a top destination for Trump tourism. Experts say Mar-a-Lago in particular gives unprecedented access to people to the president.

Mar-a-Lago has become a top destination for Trump tourism. Experts say Mar-a-Lago in particular gives unprecedented access to people to the president.

federal authorities are investigating possible Chinese intelligence operations directed at President Donald Trump and his private Palm Beach club Mar-a-Lago. Sources familiar with the never-before-reported survey told Miami Herald Wednesday.

The federal authorities counterintelligence probe was turbocharged on Saturday when US Secret Service agents arrested a Chinese woman, Yujing Zhang, after they said she was trying to enter the club with a host of electronic devices, including a thumb drive. who was infected with "malicious malware." [19659006] The ongoing study has also recently focused on Li "Cindy" Yang, told sources Herald. Yang is a resident of the South Florida massage business who has promoted events in Mar-a-Lago with ads aimed at Chinese business leaders hoping to access Trump and his family. The survey – spearheaded by the FBI – began before the Herald unveiled Yang's business of selling last month's access and focused on other Chinese citizens doing business in the region.

Prior to her arrest, Zhang was unknown to federal authorities. Investigators of the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in South Florida are trying to find 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 Trumps Mar-a-Lago.

Zhang headed to a Mar-a-Lago event, announced on Chinese social media by Yang, when she was arrested by federal authorities for making a false statement to a federal officer and into restricted property according to a criminal complaint filed in federal courts.

She told conflicting stories of needing to use the club pool, and hopes to discuss economic relations between the United States and China with a member of the president's family, the court says. Trump golfed at another of his South Florida clubs during the incident.

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<p>                          Li & # 39; Cindy & # 39; Yang released a card on Facebook sent to her by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, left. Yang's Super Bowl selfie with Trump, right.</p>
<p dir= Investigators are investigating electronic equipment seized from Zhang on Saturday, including the thumb, a laptop, an external hard drive, and four mobile phones. They are trying to determine what Zhang was planning to do with malware at Trump's club and how that evidence could help in their pre-existing investigation.

Zhang, whose birth year is listed as 1986 in registries, has not been charged with any crimes related to espionage. Her federal public defense did not respond promptly to comments requests.

Yang has said she has no ties to China's government and does not personally know Donald Trump or sell access to him.

In a statement on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Yang said: "Our client has said she does not know the woman arrested in Mar-a-Lago this weekend."

She said that Yang's lawyer Evan Turk was "not interested" in talking to the herald, and that Yang had not been contacted by federal authorities to Turkish law firm "Knowledge."

But Zhang's arrest has worried Congress Democrats concerned about whether the President's business interests could be exploited by foreign opponents.

On Wednesday, top Democrats in Washington urged the FBI and National Intelligence Director to assess the risks of Mar-a-Laga's policy of granting members of the public and foreign nationals while the president and his family are using the club.

"The apparent ease with which Mrs Zhang gained access to the facility during the presidential weekend visit raises concerns about the visitor screening system, including the reliance on decisions made by the Mar-a-Lago employees", a letter from the Senate declared. Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner, D-Va., Senate Court Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Cal., And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.

"As the White House Communications Agency and Secret Service continue to establish more secure areas in Mar-a-Lago for processing classified information when the president goes there, these potential vulnerabilities have serious national security implications," the letter continued.

The letter also requests the FBI and DNI to coordinate with the secret service to determine the steps needed to "detect and deter resistance governments or their agents from attempting to access or conduct electronic surveillance or acquisition of material. at Mar-a-Lago or President Trump's other properties. "

Democrats also requested an immediate response to a previous letter dated 15 March, which required a controversial investigation of Yang's relations with Chinese officials and the risks of her activities may constitute US national security interests.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican in Florida, said it was too early for Congress to consider specific actions in response to Zhang's arrest at Mar-a-Lago.

"The FBI will look at it, it's their job, that's it," Rubio said. "But I would hate to speculate on what we know so far."

Rubio, a vocal critic of the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei over, worries that its equipment could be used for Chinese government surveillance and Chinese funded institutes at US colleges, said Zhang's arrest is a piece of a major threat from foreign nationals to all leading and legislative branch employees as well as defense contractors.

"It's always a threat, but I don't know enough about this person or matter to make a bold statement about what happened here or what it's about," Rubio said.

China's Consulate in Houston, which monitors its citizens' activities in Florida and other Southeastern states, said in an email that it is "giving consular assistance to arrested Chinese citizen Yujing Zhang now and will resolutely protect the legitimate rights and interests by Chinese citizens. We will place great emphasis on the matter and travel to Miami for consular visits as needed. "

The Consulate and China's Embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to questions about who Zhang is and whether she works for China government. 19659031] Access to sales

According to court documents, Zhang traveled from Shanghai, China, to South Florida to attend a "United Nations Chinese Friendship" event as a guest in a social media contact, she only identified as "Charles." Although the authorities pointed out that there was no event that came from the 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 to a youth organization. The events were canceled after intense news coverage of Yang and her activities, something Zhang might not have realized.

Yang put the combination of March 30 events as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for overseas Chinese customers to meet members of the Trump family and other top politicians in his Chinese-language ads targeted to foreign buyers.

An associate of Yang named Charles Lee also pushed the advertisements on Chinese social media.


Cindy Yang (center left) stands outside Mar-a-Lago on January 26, 2018 with Safari Night organizer Terry Bomar (left), Elizabeth Trump Grau (center right) and Cliff Li)

Courtesy Asian GOP

Lee is the founder of the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, a for-profit Delaware-based company, not listed by the United Nations as an affiliate. Instead, Lee uses the company to announce Yang's Mar-a-Lago invitations to Chinese customers hoping to get close to Trump. The name of the company is almost identical to the event that Zhang said she wanted to attend.

The group's website promotes the Chinese Communist Party and promotes President Xi Jinp's business diplomacy agenda – an attempt to send Chinese business executives abroad to be friends with politicians in the hope of winning China and its agenda.

Since Yang first set foot in Mar-a-Lago at the end of 2017, she and Lee have brought more than two dozen guests to various Mar-a-Lago events. Yang delivered housing to one of Lee's guests attending a New Year's Eve on December 31, 2018, according to a report by The New York Times. The guest, a Chinese actress named Sun Ye, took pictures with two of the President's sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump.

Lee could not be reached for comments and seems to have interrupted his phone and taken down on the group's website after being contacted by a herald reporter last week. In a short conversation at that time, Lee refused to know Yang before hanging up.

Huge trove & # 39;

Although Zhang himself may have acted, national security experts say her case illustrates why Mar-a-Lago – available to members, their friends and paying guests – presents a unique espionage risk.

  lu and cindy.jpg

Cindy Yang, center, brought tech executive Lucas Lu, left, to a December 2, 2017, fundraiser to President Donald Trump as a guest of the National Committee of Asian Republicans. Cliff Li, right is the Group CEO.

"The surprise would be if Chinese and Russian and other adversarial governments did not try to enter Mar-a-Lago and the president's other attributes," says Peter Harrell, an additional senior companion at the Center for a New American Security and former Obama administration government department official. "There is a large amount of information available."

Although the secret service regularly sweeps the property for errors, Harrell says that Trump's penchant for speaking off-the-cuff could make an appealing goal.

"If you can get a buggy planted in there, you could access what he says and what people say to him," he said. "Maybe the Chinese government knows the vulnerabilities and security procedures here."

Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the American Progress Center and a former Deputy Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific issues in the Obama administration, said Zhang's arrest shows that the security risk at Mar-a-Lago is real, not theoretical, even though Chinese citizen does not seem to have penetrated the club much.

"This doesn't make me an extremely sophisticated attempt" Fuchs said. "Nevertheless, it goes to show how vulnerable Mar-a-Lago and the President's business interests make him. And it raises a question of the question: How many others may have gotten in without being caught?"

Since Trump became President, long-standing Mar-a-Lago members have noted foreigners' increased presence on charity events and galases – large contingents of Chinese speaking little English. "It's a circus," said a long-time Miami Herald employee on condition of anonymity for fear of workplace impact. The employee said Chinese guests would bring gifts of cheap electronics and constantly ask the staff to help them get face-to-face with Trump or his family.

The president was out golf when Zhang was arrested after attempting to enter Mar-a-Lago around noon on Saturday.

At an outside checkpoint, Zhang delivered two Chinese passports and told Secret Service staff that she would use the pool, although later discovered, there was no bathing suit in her bag. She was allowed to pass. Mistakes were raised after a receptionist found Zhang not at Mar-a-Lago's guest list over the weekend.

Mar-a-Lago club management – not the Secret Service – determines who has access to the property, according to a statement released Tuesday by the US Secret Service.

"This access cannot afford an individual proximity to the president or other secret service protectors," the complaint said. "In such cases, additional screening and safeguards are used. With the exception of some permanently protected facilities, such as the White House, the practice applied to Mar-a-Lago is no different from that used long-term in one. any other place temporarily visited by the president or other secret service protectors. "[19659015] Zhang reviewed the normal two-step security screening that stated that she was not an authorized guest, said the Secret Service statement.

She was arrested after being "verbally aggressive" with agents, according to court records.

Miami Herald writers Keenan Chen and Selina Cheng contributed to this report.

Jay Weaver writes about evil people who specialize in con jobs, rip-offs and squirreling away millions. Since joining the Miami Herald in 1999, he covered the federal courts nonstop, from Elian's custody battle to A-Rod's steroid use. He was in the Herald team who won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news in 2001.

Nicholas Nehamas is an investigative reporter at the Miami Herald, where he was part of the Pulitzer award winning team that broke the Panama papers. He attended the Columbia Journalism School and joined the Herald in 2014.

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