Home Arrest at Trump’s Florida Property Raises Security Concerns
April 6, 2019
Palm trees moved slowly as a light ocean breeze passed through Palm Beach, Florida last Saturday. That was the day a woman entered the grounds of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump has called the property his “winter White House.”
The woman told security officials she was going to the resort’s swimming pool. She showed them two Chinese passports with the name Yujing Zhang.
The security officials did not know if she actually had permission to enter, so they called the front desk at Mar-a-Lago.
The property is on an island between the Atlantic Ocean and a small waterway called Lake Worth Lagoon. The land was developed in the 1920s and bought by Donald Trump in 1985. Today it is part house, hotel and restaurant. It has a spa, a s wimming pool, workout machines and tennis courts. There is a nearby golf club also called Mar-a-Lago – or “Sea to Lake,” in Spanish.
Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago every few weekends to enjoy the warm weather, rest and do government business. Hundreds of people who have paid to be members of Mar-a-Lago are also permitted to visit the area. However, they must be checked and questioned by security.
On this day, March 30, security officials noted that the name Yujing Zhang sounded similar to a club member. They gave her permission to enter the grounds.
When the woman came inside, she spoke to workers at the front desk. She said she was there a little early for a “United Nations Friendship Event.” But the event did not really exist.
Later, she said a friend had told her to come to Mar-a-Lago. She claimed she wanted to talk to someone in the Trump family about Chinese and American economic relations.
Workers and security officials quickly grew suspicious. Officials searched her belongings and found four cell phones, a laptop computer, and an external hard drive. They also found a small device containing a computer virus – but nothing for her to wear while swimming in the pool.
Zhang was charged with making false statements to government officials and illegally entering a restricted area. She has been detained until a court hearing later this month.
Officials are also looking into whether Zhang was part of a larger effort to reach Trump and try to do harm. They are treating the case as a possible threat.
The event raises concerns again about the difficulty of keeping Mar-a-Lago secure.
David Kris is an expert on foreign intelligence at Culper Partners, a consulting business in Seattle, Washington. He says Mar-a-Lago is not well-defended and is at risk of both physical and cyber attacks.
A top official at the security company CTC International Group described guarding Mar-a-Lago as a “nightmare.” The number of people who can come and go make protecting Trump and the property much more difficult.
The U.S. government spends more than $3 million on security at Mar-a-Lago every time Trump visits there. The agency responsible for guarding the president is the Secret Service. The agency said in a statement that its work at Mar-a-Lago is the same as at other places the president visits for a short time.
Trump himself also dismissed security concerns after the arrest. “We have very good control,” he told reporters.
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly
Kelly Jean Kelly adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from the Associated Press. George Grow was the editor.