Alleged Mar-A-Lago Malware Courier Loses US Visa

An entranceway to President Donald Trump's Mar-a Lago resort is seen

Yujing Zhang's hearing was held Monday afternoon in West Palm Beach, Florida, and is expected to resume next Monday.

They eventually arrested her on charges of lying to a federal officer and entering restricted property.

The move would keep Yujing Zhang in US government custody even if she is granted bond.

Zhang's lawyer, Robert Adler, countered with a different, possibly exculpatory revelation - he said his client had paid businessman Charles Lee US$20,000 to get into Mar-a-Lago.

Adler, through his questioning, prompted Ivanovich to admit the following details about the Secret Service's process with Zhang and at the private club. Zhang claimed she'd been told by her contact "Charles" over the WeChat instant messaging service to meet him at Mar-a-Lago and try "to speak with a member of the president's family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations", Ivanovich said. When a Secret Service agent plugged the suspicious Chinese national's thumb drive into his personal computer (as one apparently does), it immediately started installing files.

Initial reports regarding the suspect's arrest referenced the confiscation of a drive containing "malicious malware," though the specific type of malware has not been disclosed.

It was "very out of the ordinary" - an authorized download they had never seen before, Ivanovich testified. The agent scrambled to stop the analysis taking over the computer and cease any additional corruption of the device. Those protocols were followed in this case, the official said.

Yang had promoted an event at Mar-a-Lago on March 30, the day Zhang appeared.

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Zhang sat quietly at the defense table during the two-hour hearing, scribbling notes in Chinese characters as she listened to a translator through headphones. "The only thing Ms Zhang did was give a common name and she was allowed onto the property", Mr Adler said. The room where she was interviewed didn't have that capability.

Zhang talked her way into the club, carrying a large number of electronic devices including malware on a thumb drive. "We don't deny someone for having so many cell phones".

A former USA government expert on Chinese intelligence operations, who asked not to be named while discussing sensitive information, said investigators would want to know "why, exactly, was she there?" He said that not only did Zhang falsely tell a Secret Service agent at a Mar-a-Lago checkpoint that she was a member there to use the pool, even though she had no swimsuit, she told agents she was carrying her computer gear because she was afraid the items would be stolen if she left them in her hotel room. "Her ties are all in China", he later added.

When she was arrested, Zhang showed agents an invitation she had received to what she described as the United Nations event. She arrived a few hours before the event to take photos and get familiar with the resort, he said.

Investigators said Zhang told a front desk clerk she was there for a nonexistent Chinese American event. He said the malware's ultimate goal remains unknown.

The breach has led Democrats in Congress to ask for more information about security at Mar-a-Lago. After communication with the woman proved hard due to a perceived language barrier, staff at the club became convinced she was related to a member who has the same surname.

As part of the hearing, Secret Service agent Samuel Ivanovich testified about his questioning of Zhang, and acknowledged a major misstep in investigation's early hours.

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