PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — As palm trees swayed in the ocean breeze, Yujing Zhang approached Secret Service agents in the Mar-a-Lago parking lot.
She said she was going to the swimming pool at the Palm Beach presidential estate and presented agents with two Chinese passports in her name. That raised suspicions with her screeners, but a call to the front desk at Mar-a-Lago revealed a club member with a similar last name and with that, and a possible language barrier, reception waved her through.
Not long after, Zhang was arrested carrying four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive and a thumb drive containing computer malware in an incident that is shining a spotlight on the unique difficulty of fortifying the oceanside Florida estate of President Donald Trump — who was staying at the club that weekend but golfing elsewhere at the time.
Zhang’s arrest has revived concerns about security — particularly cybersecurity — at a presidential refuge that mixes social functions, world diplomacy and extraordinary access to the president. Hundreds of members frequent Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other private clubs, which function as working resorts even when Trump himself visits, creating a series of challenges that test the Secret Service.
Federal officials were looking into whether Zhang was part of a larger effort to gain access to the president and do potential harm, and were combing through her devices and treating the case as a “credible threat,” according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak about the ongoing probe and discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
Democratic lawmakers were inquiring about a possible connection to Li Yang, the Republican donor and spa owner who promised Chinese business leaders that her consulting firm could get them access to the president at Mar-a-Lago.
Democrats on Wednesday called for an investigation into security at Mar-a-Lago, and whether classified information stored there is at risk from hostile foreign governments. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he would get a briefing Thursday from the Secret Service.