Yang’s activities at Trump’s private clubs in Palm Beach, Fla., have attracted attention in recent days after a spa she once owned was the target of a widely publicized sex-trafficking sting involving the owner of the New England Patriots.
Scrutiny has also centered on a company Yang ran offering foreign visitors access to the president and other top Republican officials. According to an archived version of her company’s Chinese-language website, which became inactive after recent news reports, the company offered VIP access to the White House and Mar-a-Lago, and autographed photos of Trump.
At the same time, Yang identified herself on the website as holding a position with the Chinese Association for Science and Technology. Experts in Chinese influence say that it and another group to which Yang has been tied have links to China’s ruling Communist Party’s efforts to spread influence in the West, though they noted that her roles do not necessarily suggest that she acted on behalf of the Chinese government.
Yang has not been accused of any wrongdoing. She was not named in connection with the sting last month at the Orchids of Asia day spa in Jupiter, Fla., which her attorney said she sold six years ago. It is not clear whether she successfully arranged for any visitors to attend events with the president or if she charged for the service.
But that Yang attended so many events at Mar-a-Lago and had such ready access to high-ranking U.S. officials has renewed questions about security at the seaside resort that serves as Trump’s home away from Washington — and about who can gain the ear of the president and his allies for the price of a ticket to a Mar-a-Lago event.
“The fact that Mar-a-Lago is so porous is of concern,” said David Kris, an assistant attorney general for national security under President Barack Obama and founder of Culper Partners, a national-security consulting firm. “The president is a unique foreign intelligence target for adversaries, and those in close orbit around him are also important targets, and Mar-a-Lago appears to be a very wide aperture for possible penetration.”
In a statement, Yang’s attorney Evan W. Turk said Yang has been smeared because of her support for Trump.
“At this time, the evidence indicates that our client has been falsely accused in a manner that she may never recover from,” he said. “Her name, her reputation and her honor have been destroyed. Cindy Yang seems to be another casualty, as a supporter of our president.”
Another Yang attorney, Michelle Merson, told ABC News Wednesday that Yang has been involved in politics and philanthropy and was “living a very quiet life, doing good things for herself, her family and our community, and all of a sudden this just has exploded into national” news.
“Ms. Yang loves this country,” Merson said. That she is “a threat to our society” is “just so far from the truth,” she said.
The Secret Service declined to comment on its protective operations, citing security concerns.
Yang has been a fixture at black-tie galas at Mar-a-Lago, at Trump’s golf course in Jupiter, Fla., and at other GOP events in the state since Trump took office in 2017, local GOP activists said. That year, federal records show, Yang made her first political donation: $37,000 to Trump Victory, the committee that raises money for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.
She is not a member of Mar-a-Lago but attended events there as a guest of a friend who is a longtime member, Merson told ABC News.
Yang posted photos of many of the events on her Facebook page, which were captured by other media outlets before the account was disabled. She was shown posing alongside top Republican officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, and celebrities such as Voight, the guest of honor at last month’s “Country Comes to Mar-a-Lago” bash hosted by the Trumpettes, a Trump fan club.
Yang bought two tickets to the Trumpettes event, at a cost of at least $2,000, the organizer said.
“I don’t remember meeting her, but she was there. She was in the VIP section,” Trumpettes founder Toni Holt Kramer said. “She actually inquired about buying a table.”
Yang’s website claimed to offer access to events at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere, including two fundraising dinners at the resort last May. One invitation circulating online that lists Yang’s name and cellphone number offered a “perfect experience” and VIP treatment at an upcoming event featuring one of Trump’s sisters, Elizabeth Trump Grau.
“President Trump’s private estate — ‘the White House of the South,’ ” the invitation said.
Grau did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Michael Barnett, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, said that Yang’s business of offering access to Trump is hard to figure out, because anyone can buy a ticket to any of the fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago without having to know someone with connections.
And there is no way to guarantee that Trump will be at Mar-a-Lago when a gala such as the GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner is held. Trump has not attended the dinner since 2016.
“You take your chances when you purchase your tickets and hope that he shows up,” Barnett said about Trump. “Nobody can promise that he will.”
Among the many photos previously posted on Yang’s Facebook was a selfie with Trump at this year’s Super Bowl viewing party at Trump International Golf Club West Palm Beach — where the president cheered on his friend, team owner Robert Kraft, on the night the Patriots won their sixth title.
Kraft was charged in connection with the sprawling anti-trafficking investigation involving a string of day spas. Kraft has denied the charges, and Yang has not been implicated.
Some experts on Chinese influence noted Yang’s apparent roles in two Florida-based organizations they say are linked to the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to promote its interests abroad and quash dissident views.
Yang identified herself on her company’s now-archived website as the vice president of the Miami chapter of the U.S. arm of the Chinese Association for Science and Technology. Xiao Ling, who runs the Florida chapter of the Chinese Association for Science and Technology, did not respond to a request for comment. A representative from the group’s main office in China declined to comment.
In an article in a Chinese-language technology outlet, Chinese Voice of America, Yang is also identified as deputy director of the Florida branch of the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China.
The council, which has chapters around the world, advocates for Taiwan to be absorbed into China. The chapters are overseen by a wing of the Chinese Communist Party.
A representative for the council’s office in China could not confirm whether it has any contacts or an office in Florida.
Both groups are a part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to exert influence outside of China, according to several experts.
Yang’s lawyers did not respond to questions about their client’s positions with the groups.
Through the influence effort, known as the “united front,” China’s Communist Party seeks to “co-opt and control” diaspora communities to spread pro-China views, said Matt Schrader, a Washington-based China analyst for the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund.
“It’s potentially concerning. If the whole purpose of the united front is political mobilization abroad . . . you don’t really want people enmeshed in that network close to your own political system,” said Peter Mattis, research fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
This is not the first time that someone has been said to have been selling Chinese nationals access to Trump. Last year, invitations circulated among wealthy entrepreneurs in China purporting to offer “VVIP” trips to be photographed with Trump at a Republican Party fundraiser.
There is relatively light screening of guests at Mar-a-Lago, according to two former senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters. Though it is private and available primarily to dues-paying members, the club is also a social hub in Palm Beach and frequently a venue for GOP events.
Traditionally, for public events where the president appears, the Secret Service obtains the names of all guests and employees who might come into close contact with him.
The Secret Service’s protective intelligence division runs those names through a national FBI database to determine whether anyone is wanted on a bench warrant or has any history of arrests or convictions for drugs or violent crimes. The service also can check names in a CIA database to determine whether anyone has been flagged as being a concern to the intelligence community.
The Washington Post recently reported that some employees at Trump’s golf club in New Jersey asked not to have their names provided to the Secret Service in planning for a Trump visit because they feared being outed as undocumented immigrants. They said they think they were never screened by the service.
At Mar-a-Lago, guests must show their IDs and pass through metal detectors to be checked for weapons. Their cars are inspected by the Secret Service on entry to the club. Guests are told the entire screening process will take 10 minutes, according to security protocols sent to guests attending a March 2018 event there.
But any member can take guests for dinner or lunch at the club. No specific list is given to White House aides to describe who will be there or at the golf club. And Trump often eats in the main dining room — though there is sometimes a rope around his table — or strolls around the patio.
Trump always tries to be there for certain events — such as the Super Bowl party, Easter weekend, New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving — so those seeking to corner him often home in on those weekends, former aides said.
The aides said certain members always try to be there when Trump is present and introduce their friends and guests to him. Often, guests would give Trump ideas that he would later raise with White House aides.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Steven Ledewitz, a member of the executive committee of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, said it would be a stretch for someone to guarantee access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago, given that the president’s schedule is not always known in advance and because there is no easy way to approach him at the club.
“I don’t see how anybody could promise access to the president,” Ledewitz said.
Trumpettes founder Kramer agreed. “You can’t just sell access to the president. When he’s at Mar-a-Lago, even his close friends, people he’s known for years and years, are kept away from him,” she said. “You can’t just go up to him the way we used to, no matter how long we’ve known him.”
Trump was not at her event, which attracted more than 700 guests from around the world, she said.
“He wasn’t there, but bless him, he did a beautiful video. He thanked me, he thanked Jon Voight, he was wonderful,” she said. “But that’s as close as anybody got to the president.”
Amy B Wang, Lyric Li, Shane Harris, Carol Leonnig, Alice Crites and Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.