Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the recent arrest of Yujing Zhang, the woman who allegedly breached security at President Donald Trump’s private Florida club while carrying Chinese passports and a flash drive containing malware, is an example of the threat Beijing poses to the US.
Pompeo declined to provide additional details related to that claim during the interview on “CBS This Morning,” but did say, “I think this tells the American people the threat that China poses, the efforts they’re making inside the United States, not only against government officials but more broadly.”
CNN reported on Wednesday that the FBI had begun investigating the possibility that the incident at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property was an espionage effort.
The US official who confirmed the espionage probe said the FBI is doing what it has to do in these circumstances, when there is a foreign national involved and a possibility of counterintelligence or cybersecurity issues.
Trump dismissed concerns about the incident when asked about potential Chinese espionage on Wednesday.
“No, I’m not concerned at all,” he said.
The President described it a “fluke situation,” praising both the Secret Service and the receptionist who stopped Zhang.
“The result is they were able to get her, and she is now suffering the consequences,” he said.
While the FBI has not yet disclosed whether the incident is related to Chinese espionage, Pompeo said Wednesday that investigators are “looking closely” at that possibility and suggested the breach could be connected to China’s broader efforts to steal American intellectual property.
That issue is being discussed during trade talks between Washington and Beijing, Pompeo added.
“It’s one of the topics that’s being discussed in these trade negotiations. The theft of American intellectual property is big business, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, and President Trump is determined to push back against it,” he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that the latest round of trade talks between the US and China has ended, noting that the two sides “made progress” but “significant work remains.”
A US official told CNN that they were hesitant to interpret the exact meaning of Pompeo’s comments, saying only that the quote “speaks for itself.”
While investigators have not yet revealed conclusive evidence suggesting a link to Chinese espionage, the breach has highlighted long-brewing concerns about security at Mar-a-Lago.
Mar-a-Lago allows members, their guests and people attending events at the club to enter and move around, even as Trump makes frequent visits to the club.
The unique nature of the President conducting official business at the semi-public location – rather than at the White House or retreats favored by previous presidents – was of international significance just days into his time on the job, when he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could be seen responding in real time to a North Korean missile launch.
Later that same year, Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago as the US conducted airstrikes on Syria and the two world leaders ate the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen,” as Trump put it.
Potential interest by China in Mar-a-Lago has drawn particular scrutiny. Top congressional Democrats have called for a new FBI investigation into a Florida woman’s apparent ties to Trump, focusing on whether Cindy Yang illegally sought to leverage her relationship with the President by selling access to Chinese clients.
Zhang was charged with making false statements to a federal officer and entering a restricted area on Monday. A detention hearing is scheduled for Monday and arraignment for April 15.
CNN obtained audio of Monday’s hearing, where Zhang could be heard speaking broken English and asked for the help of a translator. She was read the charges against her and told she could face up to six years in prison.
A federal prosecutor called Zhang “an extreme risk of flight” and said she had no ties to the US or the Mar-a-Lago area, the audio showed. A prosecutor also said the Chinese consulate was made aware of Zhang’s arrest the day it happened.
“The People’s Republic of China is well aware of the fact that she has been arrested,” Assistant US Attorney John McMillan said.
CNN’s Eli Watkins and Evan Perez contributed to this report.