Check out the president’s Florida resort that he has visited on multiple weekends during his presidency. USA TODAY
Senate Democrats on Wednesday asked the FBI to assess the vulnerability of the Mar-a-Lago facilities and equipment President Donald Trump uses to access classified information while staying at his luxury country club in Palm Beach, Fla.
Their request was in response to Saturday’s security breach of the “Winter White House” by Yujing Zhang, a Chinese national found with two passports, four cellphones, a laptop and a malware-infected thumb drive.
“These potential vulnerabilities have serious national security implications,” the senators wrote in a letter to the FBI, which also said the Secret Service and White House Communications Agency were working together to establish several secure areas at Mar-a-Lago for handling classified information when the president travels there.
Trump was not there when Zhang was arrested. He was four miles away at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, according to White House pool reports. Some Trump family members, including First Lady Melania, were in Palm Beach Saturday, but TCPalm doesn’t know whether they were at Mar-a-Lago at the time.
The letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray was from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Intelligence committee vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner.
Layers of security
The Secret Service blamed the Mar-a-Lago Club staff, despite the fact its agents let Zhang through two security checkpoints, according to a federal criminal complaint.
The Trump Organization, which owns Mar-a-Lago, has not responded to TCPalm’s questions about the Secret Service statement.
“The Secret Service does not determine who is invited or welcome at Mar-a-Lago,” the statement says. “This is the responsibility of the host entity. The Mar-a-Lago Club management determines which members and guests are granted access to the property. This access does not afford an individual proximity to the president or other Secret Service protectees.”
Secret Service agents vet Mar-a-Lago guests based on their proximity to the president, dividing them into three “layers,” according to a study released by the U.S. Governmental Accountability Office in January.
Outer layer: These guests make up the majority of club visitors. Secret Service agents use wands and magnetometers to do “physical screenings” of them. They also may be monitored by the Coast Guard and state and local law enforcement agencies.
Middle layer: These guests may visit rooms the president also may visit, including dining and ballrooms. Secret Service agents “sweep” the rooms before Trump enters.
Inner layer: These guests are expected to be near or interact with Trump, and include Mar-a-Lago employees. Secret Service agents conduct background checks and physical screenings on them.
The Secret Service has said there is no system for keeping track of Mar-a-Lago guests, including those who speak to Trump.
How Zhang entered
Most guests are in the “outer layer,” including Zhang.
At the first Secret Service security checkpoint, Zhang said she was going to the pool. She was allowed to enter after a Mar-a-Lago security manager said her last name matched that of a club member, the complaint says.
Zhang is one of the most common last names in the world, and is the fastest-growing last name in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
When Zhang was asked whether she was the club member’s daughter, she did not give a definitive answer, an agent says in the complaint.
“Due to a potential language barrier issue, Mar-a-Lago believed her to be the relative of member Zhang and allowed her access onto the property,” the complaint says.
Then, a golf-cart valet who picked up Zhang asked her where she wanted to go, but she said she wasn’t sure, so the valet dropped her off at the main reception area, the complaint states. They passed three Secret Service agents during the ride.
At the second Secret Service security checkpoint, Zhang was “screened,” the agency’s statement says, then allowed to enter the main reception area, the complaint states. “The individual, per club protocol, was immediately met by club reception,” the Secret Service statement says.
A receptionist asked Zhang multiple times why she was visiting the club. Zhang said she was attending a United Nations Chinese-American Association event later that evening; however, that event didn’t exist, the complaint states.
The receptionist determined Zhang wasn’t on the club’s access list and had her escorted off the property, the complaint states.
“The Mar-a-Lago reception staff then determined that the individual should not have been authorized access by their staff, and Secret Service agents took immediate action resulting in the arrest of the individual,” the agency’s statement says.
Zhang told Secret Service agents someone named Charles told her to travel from Shanghai to Palm Beach to attend the event and to talk to a member of Trump’s family about the economic relationship between U.S. and China, the complaint states.
She was charged with unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds and making false statements to federal law enforcement agents. Her detention hearing is April 8.
Zhang’s arrest came at a time when Chinese entrepreneurs in South Florida have launched consulting businesses offering to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family members at the Palm Beach resort.
For example, GY US Investments LLC’s website claimed clients could “have the opportunity to interact with the president” and other “political figures.”
That company is owned by Cindy Yang, who founded a chain of spas and massage parlors, including the Jupiter spa New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft allegedly patronized. Yang since has sold the spa.
Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution in a major prostitution and sex-trafficking probe of spas and massage parlors on the Treasure Coast and Palm Beach County.
Yang frequently posted pictures from Mar-a-Lago on her personal Facebook account, including one with the president at a Super Bowl watch party at the resort. The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl that night.
A cached version of the website from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, also shows Yang attending a number of galas, dinners and political events, even getting an invite to the White House for one event.
U.S. House and Senate Democrats asked the Governmental Accountability Office to study Mar-a-Lago security after Trump discussed national security matters — in front of club guests — with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February 2017.
A club member posted pictures of Trump and Abe discussing a North Korean missile launch and looking at documents at a table on the dining terrace.
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