By Jon Dougherty
A federal judge has denied bail to a Chinese woman who was arrested last month after she attempted to gain entry into President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida because he believes she was “up to something nefarious.”
When Yujing Zhang was arrested, she was carrying several electronic devices, according to reports. She pleaded not guilty during her arraignment and detention hearing Monday in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Zhang, 33, was indicted on Friday on charges she made false statements to a federal agent, as well as entering and then remaining in a restricted area at the president’s resort — which raised red flags about security there.
During the hearing, a federal prosecutor suggested that Zhang could eventually face additional charges. U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman ordered her to remain in jail.
The judge said he was concerned that Zhang told U.S. Secret Service agents that she went to Mar-a-Lago to attend a charity event that prosecutors say she knew had been canceled.
In addition, the judge was bothered by the fact that she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive when she was arrested.
“It does appear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious when she unlawfully attempted to gain access to Mar-a-Lago,” Matthewman said.
While Zhang hasn’t been indicted on espionage charges, it seems feasible those could come at some point. Currently, Reuters reports, the FBI is looking into whether she has any links to Chinese intelligence or other Beijing-affiliated political influence operations, according to government sources.
Zhang, a Shanghai-based financial investor, and consultant was arrested on March 30 after giving conflicting reasons for being at the club during one of Trump’s weekend visits. The president was not at his resort at the time of her arrest.
Given the fact that POTUS was away and Zhang was caught with a host of electronic devices, it seems logical to assume she could have been there to access sensitive systems belonging to the resort or even to the president himself.
A former CIA officer told CBS News earlier this month in response to reports that Zhang’s thumb drive had malware on it that it smells like espionage.
“If you are there for legitimate business reasons, it seems odd that you would have malware on your thumb drive, right?” said former CIA officer Lisa Ruth, adding that Zhang’s excuse rang hollow at the time.
“This looks very much like a Chinese espionage intelligence operation,” Ruth said.
Reuters said that Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia told the court a second analysis found no such software and the first could have been a “false positive.”
That in and of itself is suspicious; malware either exists on a device or it doesn’t.
As for Zhang, Trump may not have been her primary target, noted Ruth.
“Certainly President Trump is the biggest target, but there’s a lot of other people at Mar-a-Lago who have access or information or intelligence,” Ruth said. “You have seasonal employees who are certainly not cleared like a White House employee is going to be. Recruit any of them and you’ve got a lot of information.”
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10