© 2023 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Chinese Woman Who Breached Mar-A-Lago Security Found Guilty

Yujing Zhang, pictured left in the court sketch, maintained that she was visiting Mar-a-Lago to attend an event promoting China-U.S. relations.
Daniel Pontet

The Chinese woman who was arrested for breaching security at President Trump's private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida earlier this year, has been found guilty on counts of lying to federal officers and illegally entering a restricted area.

Yujing Zhang entered Mar-a-Lago on March 30 before she was stopped by Secret Service agents. Initially, Zhang, who appears to speak limited English, said she was there to visit the pool, though prosecutors later noted she did not have a swimsuit in her possession.

When she was picked up a second time by Secret Service agents patrolling the resort, the 33-year-old told a different story: that she was planning to attend an event there that, in fact, had been cancelled.

Finally, Zhang offered a third reason for being on the grounds, saying a Chinese friend had told her to travel from Shanghai, China, to Mar-a-Lago to "attempt to speak with a member of the President's family about Chinese American foreign economic relations," according to court documents.

Trump was not at Mar-a-Lago at the time of the incident — he was out golfing — but he and his family were staying at the resort over the weekend.

According to officials, Zhang was carrying two passports, four cellphones, one laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive when she was detained for questioning. Prosecutors first said the flash drive contained malicious software, but they later backed off that claim.

The Florida trial lasted two days and Zhang chose to represent herself, after firing her public defenders against the advice of U.S. District Judge Roy Altman.

Multiple news outlets reported that Zhang often appeared confused during the trial, not listening to testimony while shuffling through stacks of papers. She often took long pauses before answering questions directed at her and it remains unclear exactly how well she grasps the English language.

The Associated Press reported that even leading up to the trial, Altman would become frustrated with Zhang when she ignored his questions or answered with non sequiturs.

"I know full well that you understand what I am saying to you both in English and in Mandarin," the AP quoted Altman during an August hearing, "You are trying to play games."

Through the end, Zhang has maintained she never lied, telling jurors during a brief closing statement, "I followed the instruction. I went into the Mar-a-Lago to have a visit. So that's what I want to say, and thank you for your attention."

Zhang faces up to six years in prison. She will be sentenced in late November.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.