Top Senate Democrats are renewing calls for a security assessment of President Donald Trump’s properties after a Chinese woman was arrested while carrying a thumb drive loaded with malware at Mar-a-Lago.
In a letter addressed to Secret Service Director James Murray, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., are requesting the Secret Service provide Congress with a report on whether additional precautions, including “enhanced background checks,” should be taken at Trump’s various properties, including Mar-a-Lago and his Bedminster, N.J., golf course.
Due to its status as a private club — where $200,000 can buy a membership and nearly unchecked access to the property and its patrons — Mar-a-Lago in particular raises concerns over the ease with which a foreign power could infiltrate the president’s inner circle. Of particular concern to the senators: The club, run by the Trump Organization, controls the guest list, leaving the Secret Service with little control over the flow of people with presidential access.
Since becoming president, Trump has made a point to dine on the very public back patio where he can chat with longtime friends and pose for pictures with fans who attended dinner to get a glimpse of the commander in chief. While the visitors love the interaction, it also creates a security headache.
The letter cites Yujing Zhang, the intruder from China who was detained by Secret Service agents this past March. In addition to the thumb drive, she was also apprehended toting four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive. A subsequent search of her hotel room uncovered over $8,000 in Chinese and U.S. cash as well as nine USB drives, five SIM cards and a device used to reveal hidden cameras. according to court arguments from April. Zhang faces felony charges. Her trial is set for August 19. She will represent herself, after firing her public defenders in June.
Federal authorities were already investigating possible Chinese intelligence operations at Mar-a-Lago when Zhang was arrested. The probe focused in part on Li “Cindy” Yang, a South Florida massage parlor entrepreneur who organized access to the president for Chinese nationals and members of the Chinese Communist Party through a series of fundraising events. Her business practices were first disclosed in the Miami Herald.
The statement from Senate Democrats is a follow-up to an earlier April 3 letter from Schumer, Feinstein and Warner in the immediate aftermath of Zhang’s arrest. Addressed to FBI Director Christopher Wray, it also asks for a report on security risks at Mar-a-Lago to be submitted.
According to Sen. Schumer’s office, the FBI has not yet responded to the earlier request.
The Democrats’ new letter expressed concern that unlike the White House, Trump’s own properties are not protected by federal security when he is not there.
There are two checkpoints., one outside and the other in the reception area. Zhang made it past the first but was stopped at the second. She never made it into the club.
According to the employees, when Trump is out of town, security is very limited, and left to Mar-a-Lago security personnel only. On those days, generally the receptionist and wait staff are responsible for identifying members, and directing trespassers away from the private club.
On Inauguration Day, while the president was in Washington, a postal worker carrying bananas smeared them on cars, snatched balloons from inside the premises and typed a profanity about Trump on a Mar-a-Lago computer screen, according to the Sun Sentinel.
News reports said she was arrested on a misdemeanor charge.