Mar-a-Lago trespass trial starts with argument over underwear

Mar-a-Lago trespass trial starts with argument over underwear

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — The trial for the Chinese woman accused of trespassing at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and lying to federal agents about why she was there began with an argument over her undergarments.

Yujing Zhang, 33, initially appeared in federal court for jury selection on Monday in her brown prison uniform. Zhang, who fired her public defenders, was asked by U.S. District Judge Roy Altman why she was not wearing the civilian clothes that had been provided to her.

“You were given the choice of changing into your civilian clothing, which is your right by the way,” he said, explaining that potential jurors could make unfair judgments in her case if she was wearing the prison uniform. “I wanted you to have the option of wearing civilian clothing, but my understanding is that you’ve refused.”

Zhang said the reason she had chosen not to change was “embarrassing.”

“Unless you provide the full clothing, I don’t want to change back because of a woman issue,” she said.

Kristy Militello, a public defender standing by as counsel in case Zhang changed her mind about representing herself, said her team had provided the Chinese national with clothing from her suitcase, but said it’s possible Zhang did not have appropriate undergarments. A U.S. Marshal told the judge Zhang should have been given a bra and underwear by the jail.

“Right now you’re wearing no undergarments, I suppose?” Altman asked Zhang, who replied that she was.

Altman then urged Zhang to reconsider wearing civilian clothing so that the jurors did not see her in prison garb. A frustrated Zhang turned to Militello on the verge of tears and whispered it was embarrassing for her to talk about a “woman issue like that.”

Zhang eventually agreed to change, and walked back into the courtroom wearing a pink silk pussy bow blouse tucked into tan dress pants.

She has pleaded not guilty to trespassing March 30 at the president’s Florida resort and lying to Secret Service agents about why she was at Mar-a-Lago. A judge denied her bail, saying she poses an “extreme risk of flight” if she is released from custody.

At the time of her arrest, Zhang was carrying two Chinese passports, four cellphones, a laptop, and a device that was initially thought to contain malware. Investigators found another cellphone, about $8,000 in cash, a device that can detect hidden cameras, five SIM cards, and nine USB drives in her hotel room, according to court documents.

Zhang, who previously told the court in sworn testimony that she worked as a consultant for an asset management company, entered the United States legally on March 28, flying into Newark, New Jersey, from Shanghai. She then made her way to the president’s Palm Beach resort.

Security at a Mar-a-Lago checkpoint believed Zhang was related to a member of the club and allowed her to access the property. Zhang later told a receptionist she was there for “a United Nations Chinese American Association event later in the evening,” according to the criminal complaint, but the receptionist said there was no such event.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia said in April there was “no allegation” that Zhang was involved in “any espionage” and no charges have been brought against her under the Espionage Act, but prosecutors indicated they are building a national security case against her when they requested to file “classified information” under seal last month.

Zhang appeared confused Monday about why the legal proceedings were happening: “I think the trial has been canceled,” she said.

Altman scolded Zhang, telling her she was unprepared for the trial and he encouraged her, again, to allow Militello to represent her. Zhang did agree to let Militello help her decide whether to accept or reject jurors.

[Read: Judge accuses Chinese woman who trespassed at Mar-a-Lago of ‘trying to play games with the court’]

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