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By Xuan Thai and Rich Schapiro
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A federal judge on Monday denied bail to a Chinese woman who was arrested while trying to enter President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club with a trove of electronic devices.
Yujing Zhang, 33, has remained behind bars since March 30 when federal prosecutors say she lied to Secret Service agents to gain entry to the private club. Zhang pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of lying to federal agents and illegally entering a restricted area.
Federal Magistrate Judge William Matthewman refused to set bail for Zhang, saying he believed she posed an “extreme risk of flight” if released. Matthewman cited her financial resources in China and her lack of ties to the U.S.
“It does appear to the court that she was up to something nefarious when she tried to gain access to Mar-a Lago,” said Matthewman, who also noted that the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with China.
Zhang told federal agents and club staff members conflicting stories when she tried to gain entry to the members-only resort last month, according to a criminal complaint.
Zhang was discovered carrying two passports, four cellphones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive containing computer malware, according to her criminal complaint. When agents searched her hotel room, they found a device for detecting hidden cameras, several debit and credit cards, and nearly $8,000 in cash, according to court papers.
Zhang was indicted Friday on two counts: lying to a federal agent and illegally entering a restricted area. She faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors said in court Monday that additional charges are possible. A prosecutor also said that subsequent analysis on the thumb drive suggests that it may not contain malware afterall.
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.
Zhang’s story changed once she made it to the club’s main reception area, according to court papers.
After being asked several times where she was going, Zhang said she was there to attend the United Nations Chinese American Association event scheduled for that evening. The receptionist, who knew no such event existed, summoned the Secret Service, according to court papers.
In the arrest affidavit, the agent said Zhang spoke very good English and during questioning “became verbally aggressive with agents.” She had no swimsuit in her possession.
Harris, Biden face off in lineup for second round of Democratic debates
The lineups for the second round of Democratic presidential debates were released Thursday night, with Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont appearing on the first night and former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris, who butted heads in the last debate, facing off on the second night.
The lineups were determined in three random drawings on CNN, which is hosting the Democrats’ 2020 Detroit debate. The debate features 20 candidates and will be held over two nights — Tuesday July 30th and Wednesday July 31st.
Night one will include:
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana
Beto O’Rourke, former Texas congressman
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio
John Hickenlooper, former Colorado governor
John Delaney, former Maryland congressman
Marianne Williamson, author
CNN also revealed the order the candidates would be standing in — Williamson, Ryan, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, O’Rourke, Hickenlooper, Delaney and Bullock.
At a campaign event Thursday night in Sioux City, Iowa, Warren said she was excited to share the stage with Sanders.
“Bernie and I have been friends for a long long time,” she said.
Night two will include:
Joe Biden, former vice president
Sen. Kamala Harris of California
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
Julián Castro, former HUD secretary
Andrew Yang, entrepreneur
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington
While Harris and Biden had Sanders standing between them in the first debate, they’ll be side-by-side this time around. The order for night two is Bennet, Gillibrand, Castro, Booker, Biden, Harris, Yang, Gabbard, Inslee and de Blasio.
Yang was holding a town hall in Des Moines, Iowa when he learned he’d be back on stage with Biden and Harris.
“Oh, the two best friends from last time,” he said.
The candidate nights were chosen in three different random drawings based on their poll standings.
The criteria to make the debate stage in Detroit was the same as the first debate last month in Miami. Candidates could qualify by getting support from at least 1 percent of voters in at least three national polls or early state polls, or by raising money from 65,000 unique donors. Most qualified by meeting both criteria, but Bennet, Bullock, de Blasio, Delaney, Hickenlooper and Ryan qualified through polling only.
Overall the lineup is almost identical to the Miami debate, which was hosted over two nights by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo. There is one substitution — Rep. Eric Swalwell of California dropped out of the race after the debate, effectively passing the torch to Bullock, who snared his vacated spot.
The benchmarks will change for the third debate on Sept. 12 and potentially a second night on Sept. 13, which will be hosted in Houston by ABC and Univision. To take part in that debate, candidates will have to show they’ve received donations from 130,000 different donors, including at least 400 from 20 different states. They’ll also have to hit at least 2 percent in four different qualifying polls.
Business leader’s Brexit warning: Crippling uncertainty is harming our industries
BRITAIN’s businesses are venturing into “completely uncharted waters” with no idea what is going to happen in the next months, which makes it difficult for them to prepare for a no deal Brexit, a business leader said.
U.S. Marines jam an Iranian drone in the Gulf, destroying it
U.S. Marines jammed an Iranian drone in the Gulf of Hormuz Thursday, senior defense officials said, bringing the aircraft down and destroying it. It was the latest in a series of tense incidents between Washington and Tehran.
Iran, however, denied that it had lost any drones in the area.
President Donald Trump earlier told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the USS Boxer — an amphibious assault ship — “took defensive action” against the Iranian drone that had “closed into a very, very near distance, approximately 1,000 yards.”
The drone was “threatening safety of the ship and the ship’s crew” and “was immediately destroyed,” he said.
“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions against vessels operating in international waters,” the president said, adding that the United States “reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities, our interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce. “
“I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the strait and to work with us in the future,” Trump added.
On Friday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi said none of the country’s drones had been brought down.
In a statement sent to local media, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces also denied the U.S.’s claims, adding that a drone had conducted a reconnaissance mission and flown back to base.
Earlier, a U.S. defense official told NBC News that the drone was brought down by members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The downing of the drone was just the latest incident to be reported near the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway off Iran’s coast which separates the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. A third of the world’s seaborne oil shipments and 20 percent of oil traded worldwide pass out of the Persian Gulf through the strait.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces seized a foreign oil tanker after accusing its 12 crew members of smuggling oil, state TV reported Thursday.
Earlier this month, several Iranian boats attempted to stop a British commercial vessel sailing through the strait, but the vessels were driven away by a British military ship, a senior U.S. defense official and a British government spokesperson said.
And last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone. Iranian officials claimed they shot down the unmanned aircraft after it entered Iranian airspace, but the U.S. has disputed that and said the drone was in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz.
After the U.S. drone was shot down, Trump tweeted that the U.S. was “cocked & loaded” to retaliate with military strikes on Iranian targets, but called off the action after being told 150 people could die.
Pressure in the region has been building since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed punishing sanctions on the country. The administration has also designated the Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization. Last month, Trump signed an executive order putting in place new sanctions.
CORRECTION (July 18, 2019, 7:11 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the action taken by the U.S. military to bring down an Iranian drone in the Gulf. The drone was jammed; it was not shot down.
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