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Mar-a-Lago receptionist, not Secret Service, recognized Chinese woman as likely intruder

Jay Weaver and Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

As Secret Service agent Samuel Ivanovich spoke with Zhang, she disappeared again into the women's bathroom. The agent grew anxious, so Grumaz said she volunteered to go into the bathroom to get Zhang.

"As soon as I stepped inside the door, I could see her texting on the phone," Grumaz testified. "I called and said, 'Ma'am, can you please step outside?'"

Zhang left the bathroom and was immediately surrounded by a group of Secret Service agents in the lobby.

Ivanovich, who testified after the receptionist, said he asked Zhang for her identification and she provided two passports from the People's Republic of China, one expired and one valid. She informed him that she was at Mar-a-Lago for the U.N. friendship event and that she arrived early to familiarize herself with the property and to take pictures, Ivanovich testified.

The agent said he learned from Mar-a-Lago security staff that Zhang originally told them at a checkpoint on the perimeter of the property that she wanted to go to the pool. The staff incorrectly believed she was related to a member. Ivanovich testified that he asked Zhang about initially saying she planned to go to the pool, and she did not confirm it. When asked by a prosecutor whether Zhang would have been allowed onto the property if she had said she came to attend the United Nations friendship event, Ivanovich said, "No, she would not."

Ivanovich said that he and other Secret Service agents escorted Zhang off the premises and brought her over to the nearby Bath & Tennis Club parking lot, the initial security checkpoint at Mar-a-Lago.

 

He said that when the agents began to search the electronic devices inside her purse, Zhang "became aggressive in nature." But she agreed to go to the Secret Service's West Palm Beach office for questioning, he said. "She continued to say she was there to attend a United Nations friendship event between China and America," said Ivanovich, testifying that he read Zhang her Miranda rights.

Ivanovich said Zhang explained during the interview that she made arrangements for her trip to Mar-a-Lago through a man named "Charles," and that she also planned to visit other parts of the United States. She told him that she only knew Charles through their phone messaging on the "We Chat" social media app popular in China.

The agent said he pressed Zhang about why she initially told the Mar-a-Lago security staff that her reason for coming to the president's private club was to go to the pool.

"I asked her why she said she was going to the pool, and she stated that she did not say that," Ivanovich testified.

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