Yujing Zhang, the woman who allegedly breached security at President Donald Trump’s private Florida club while carrying Chinese passports and a flash drive containing malware late last month, had a signal detector, other electronic devices and thousands of dollars in cash in her hotel room, federal prosecutors said Monday.
Zhang is appearing at a detention hearing in a Florida federal court, and prosecutors are outlining their case as to why Zhang is a flight risk after allegedly attempting to enter Mar-a-Lago.
“She lies to everyone she encounters,” and has no ties to the US, prosecutor Rolando Garcia said.
“Her ties are all in China,” he later added.
Prosecutors say they found multiple electronic devices in her hotel room, including a signal detector that can seek out detect hidden cameras, another cell phone, nine USB drives and five SIM cards. There were also several credit cards in her name.
Zhang arrived in Newark on a flight from Shanghai on March 28, Garcia said. The incident occurred on March 30.
Zhang was discovered to have a thumb drive with malware, as well as a laptop, an external hard drive and four cell phones. She was charged with two counts — making false statements to federal authorities and a misdemeanor offense of entering a restricted area without authorization.
She has not been charged with any offenses that nod to international spying. However, the FBI has been investigating the Zhang incident as part of a Chinese espionage effort.
In the first hour of the hearing, Zhang’s defense attorney has attempted to poke holes in several procedural steps the Secret Service took during its admission of Zhang to Mar-a-Lago, in determining whether she was lying and in questioning her that afternoon and night.
The agent who questioned her, Samuel Ivanovich, has testified for about an hour about what happened that day. The attorney Robert Adler, a public defender, has so far had Ivanovich admit that a Secret Service agent who spoke Mandarin was called in to help with translations hours into Zhang’s questioning, and that the agency that protects the President largely relied on Mar-a-Lago staff to determine whether to admit her, didn’t see red flags in the devices she carried, and asked no further questions of Zhang once they believed she was related to another club member with the same last name — which is extremely common in China.
The Secret Service has no audio security recordings of its interactions with her and what she said on the grounds of Mar-a-Lago.
Ivanovich, being questioned about the malware allegedly found on Zhang’s thumb drive, said the agent examining the drive found “a file” that began to install onto an agent’s computer, and the agent looking at it said that had never happened before, and it was “very out of the ordinary” when conducting a criminal analysis.
The agent looking at the drive had to stop the analysis and shut down his computer.
Trump has described the Zhang case as a “fluke situation,” but the case so far has highlighted the possibility of security flaws Trump’s private club.
Zhang talked her way into the club, carrying a large number of electronic devices including malware on a thumbdrive. At first, she told a special agent at Mar-a-Lago she wanted to visit the pool at the beach club. The Mar-a-Lago beach club manager then noted her last name matched that of a club member, and the club waved her in, believing her to be the club member’s daughter, and “due to a potential language barrier issue,” authorities wrote in her criminal complaint.
A golf cart shuttle driver then took her to the club’s main reception area, where Zhang claimed she was to attend a “United Nations Chinese American Association” event, and then told a Secret Service agent a “United Nations Friendship Event” on the premises — neither of which existed.
Later, Zhang told authorities who were questioning her that her Chinese friend “Charles” had sent her from Shanghai to speak with the President’s family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations, according to the complaint
The case comes as Democrats in Congress press for more information about security at Mar-a-Lago and, separately, for an FBI investigation into Florida businesswoman Li “Cindy” Yang’s efforts to interact with Trump, after she appeared to have pitched to Chinese clients the opportunity to interact with the President and spent time at Mar-a-Lago and with the President at a Super Bowl party.
Zhang’s previous hearing when she was first arrested went unusually—she admitted to owning a BMW and a home in China worth more than 1 million American dollars, and asked extensively about how she may get in contact with an attorney or find phone numbers of contacts in America if she were detained in a Florida jail.
She said she worked as an investor and consultant who sought to develop business contacts in the US, but kept some money in a Wells Fargo account here.
She has been in jail since her arrest, with a court-appointed public defender representing her.
The federal magistrate judge, William Matthewman, even noted the astuteness of her questions and her intelligence at the previous hearing. There’s been some dispute over how well Zhang speaks and understands English, though the court did provide her with a language interpreter at the previous court hearing.