A federal judge has ruled that Florida prosecutors can file classified evidence in the case of a Chinese woman who was arrested while trying to enter President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club with a trove of electronic devices.
The ruling by Judge Roy Altman adds an extra layer of intrigue to the prosecution of Yujing Zhang, who is being investigated as a possible spy.
In his order filed Tuesday, Altman said the disclosure of information contained in government court papers filed under seal last month “could cause serious damage to the national security of the United States.”
Altman also wrote that “none of the evidence is exculpatory,” meaning it does not clear Zhang of guilt, and neither is it “helpful to the defense.”
Zhang, 33, in an unusual move, has elected to defend herself despite the judge’s efforts to convince her to keep her court-appointed public defenders.
She’s been behind bars since March 30, when federal prosecutors say she lied to Secret Service agents to gain entry to the president’s private club. In April, Zhang was indicted and pleaded not guilty to two counts: lying to a federal agent and illegally entering a restricted area. She faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
She was discovered at Mar-a-Lago carrying two passports, four cellphones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive containing computer malware, according to the criminal complaint. When agents searched her hotel room, they found a device for detecting hidden cameras, several debit and credit cards, and $7,500 in cash, according to court papers.
The FBI began investigating Zhang as a possible spy after her arrest, but no espionage charges have been brought.
According to court papers, Zhang told an agent posted at a Mar-a-Lago security checkpoint that she was a member who came to use the resort pool, court papers say. She displayed two Chinese passports with her name and photograph to the agent, who then took her to Mar-a-Lago security to determine if she was a member of the club.
Mar-a-Lago security allowed Zhang to enter because her last name — one of the most common in China — matched that of an existing club member, according to court papers. Zhang did not give a definitive answer when asked if that member was her father, but the club granted her entry anyway. A “potential language barrier issue” may have played a role in the club’s decision to let her in, court papers say.