The Secret Service arrested a woman with two foreign passports, four cell phones, and a malware-laden thumb drive after she allegedly lied her way past security at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Florida alleges Yujing Zhang first claimed she was just going to the pool, then said she was attending an event that didn’t actually exist and finally claimed a friend suggested she travel from Shanghai to Palm Beach to speak with a member of the Trump family about Chinese-American economic relations.
Zhang was charged with making false statements and entering a restricted building or grounds. Her attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the court papers, first reported by WPTV, Zhang showed up at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, presented two Republic of China passports to a Secret Service agent as identification, and said she was headed toward the club pool.
It’s unclear whether those passports were issued by Taiwan, the Republic of China, or China, the People’s Republic of China. An official with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York told The Daily Beast in an email: “According to our understanding, Ms. Zhang is not a citizen of Taiwan, and does not hold a Taiwanese passport. This might be a case of misidentified passports.”
A Mar-a-Lago manager, struggling to make it past an apparent language barrier, waved her through on the mistaken assumption that Zhang was a relative of a club member with similar name, authorities said.
The Secret Service stopped Zhang at a more restrictive checkpoint further into the club grounds and grew suspicious when she allegedly changed her story and claimed that she was visiting to attend a “United Nations Friendship Event’' featuring representatives of the U.S. and China.
Secret Service personnel grew more suspicious when they detained Zhang and discovered that she had “no swimming apparel” on her. When authorities searched Zhang, they found a thumb drive containing “malicious malware,” in addition to four cell phones, a laptop, and an external hard drive.
Zhang allegedly grew “verbally aggressive” when detained and, in contrast to her initial encounter at a checkpoint, demonstrated “a detailed knowledge of and ability to converse in and understand even subtle nuances of the English language.”
When pressed on why she was really at Mar-a-Lago, Zhang allegedly told Secret Service agents that a mysterious friend she referred to only as “Charles” texted her on WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging app, told her about the Mar-a-Lago event and urged her to attend. Secret Service personnel were unable to locate or identify “Charles.”
The Miami Herald suggested that Zhang may have intended to attend one of two events once scheduled at Mar-a-Lago for that date—a "Safari Night" put on by the Young Adventurers charity group and an International Leaders Elite Forum event which advertised President Trump’s sister Elizabeth Trump Grau as the host.
Both events were promoted by Cindy Yang, a Florida businesswoman who owned the massage parlor where Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution. Yang posed for photos with President Trump and senior Republican officials and has held a number of events at Mar-a-Lago for Chinese clients looking for access to the Trump family and administration officials.
It’s not clear if Zhang was referring to either event or, if she was, why she provided changing reasons for her presence at Mar-a-Lago.
In a statement later Tuesday, the Secret Service confirmed that Zhang went through two of its checkpoints before a Mar-a-Lago receptionist determined that she should not have been allowed in, and the Secret Service subsequently took “immediate action” resulting in her arrest.
The Secret Service also said it only conducted “physical screenings” on Zhang and had no part in determining if she was permitted to be on Mar-a-Lago club grounds. The statement went on to say that any access provided by the club would not allow any guest “proximity to the President or other Secret Service protectees.”