Congress

Secret Service pressed for plan to avoid future Mar-a-Lago security breaches

A 33-year-old Chinese woman was arrested with malware, other suspicious items

President Donald Trump walks to speak with supporters after arriving on Air Force One at the Palm Beach International Airport to spend Easter weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort on April 18, 2019. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Three senior Senate Democrats are pressing the U.S. Secret Service on whether security has been beefed up at President Donald Trump’s Florida and New Jersey resorts after a 33-year-old Chinese woman talked her way into his Mar-a-Lago property while he was there.

Yujing Zhang, 33, pleaded not guilty on charges of trespassing and lying to U.S. Secret Service agents after being arrested March 30 at the president’s Florida resort. When searched, she was found carrying a pair of passports, four mobile devices, a laptop computer, a thumb drive allegedly containing malware and one external hard drive.

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The Secret Service later revealed they found a device used to find hidden cameras and $8,000 in cash in her hotel room.

She has not been charged with espionage and has been granted permission by a federal judge to represent herself.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California, and Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner signaled Thursday that Secret Service brass are stonewalling their attempts to gather more information about the incident and any changes the agency has put in action.

“The apparent ease with which Zhang gained access to Mar-a-Lago has raised concerns regarding the adequacy of visitor screening procedures and other security measures at the club,” the trio wrote to Service Director James Murray.

“We were troubled to learn that Mar-a-Lago employees — and not the Secret Service — determine who is granted access to the property, where secure areas are established for handling classified information during the President’s frequent visits,” the Democrats wrote.

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They also raised concerns that the resorts, which Trump visits on weekends and sometimes during extended holiday visits, are not treated by the Service as “permanently protected” facilities, “like the White House.” They also questioned a lack of visitor rolls and what they dubbed a “substantially reduced physical security presence on days when the President is not present.”

What’s more, the Democratic senators are calling on the FBI and Secret Service to “determine the steps needed to detect and deter adversary governments or their agents from attempting to gain access to Mar-a-Lago or President Trump’s other properties in order to conduct electronic surveillance or acquire other materials.”

“The possibility that the March 30th security breach at Mar-a-Lago could be connected to broader surveillance or influence operations targeting this property illustrates the need for Congress to understand the extent of the national security risks posed by the President’s frequent use of the club and his other properties,” the trio wrote, urging Murray to provide lawmakers with details of any new Service plans and tactics.

Cathy Milhoan, Secret Service communications director, told Roll Call Thursday that in April the agency “provided thorough briefings to Members of Congress and their staff on security procedures and protocols at Mar-a-Lago.”

“Additionally, during the briefings, the Secret Service referenced a 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report concerning existing and ongoing efforts to safeguard the President in advance of and during his travel to Mar-a-Lago,” Milhoan said. “Further, the GAO report made no recommendations.”

White House officials had not responded to requests for comment.

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