The FBI is investigating “possible Chinese intelligence operations” that targeted President Trump and Mar-a-Lago, his private South Florida club, the Miami Herald reported.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, the paper said a federal counter-intelligence probe was ramped up last weekend when a Chinese woman, Yujing Zhang, was detained after trying to enter the club while carrying multiple cell phones and a thumb drive carrying malware.
The newspaper said the ongoing investigation also has focused on Li ‘Cindy’ Yang, a South Florida massage parlor entrepreneur. Yang has promoted events at Mar-a-Lago with ads targeting Chinese business executives hoping to gain access to Trump and his family, the Herald said.
The newspaper reported Zhang wasn’t known to federal authorities before last weekend, when she passed Secret Service guards and entered the club, only to be stopped by a receptionist.
“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,” the newspaper said.
She’s facing charges of entering a restricted area and making a false statement to a federal official.
“She told conflicting stories about wanting to use the club’s pool, as well as hoping to discuss U.S.-China economic relations with a member of the president’s family, court records say,” the newspaper reported.
The Herald pointed out Democrats in Congress, who have vowed to resist whatever the president pursues, called on the FBI and others to consider the risks of allowing the private club to admit members of the public.
The letter from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said, “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.”
Another opponent of the president, Peter Harrell of the leftist Center for a New American Security, a former Barack Obama appointee, said it would be surprising if adversarial governments were not trying to “get into Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other properties.”
He claimed there would be a “huge trove” of information available.
The Herald quoted several other opponents and critics of the president on the issue, including a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress, Michael Fuchs.
Fuchs said the fact that the woman, who failed to get very far into the club, was there proves there are security risks.
Zhang was allowed past Secret Service, but a receptionist stopped her when it was discovered she was not on the facility’s guest list.
The Washington Post reported Trump responded that he was not worried about potential espionage, since the Secret Service does its job well.
In fact, Ronald Kessler, an author who has known Trump for years, said there’s no more access to the president at the club than if he were in a restaurant.
The Post reported Zhang claimed she was there for a “United Nations Friendship Event” at the invitation of “Charles.”
While there was no such event planned, the Post reported a Chinese entrepreneur named Charles Li, with a group called the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, has sold package tours that included tickets to events at Mar-a-Lago.