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Trump resort ‘trespasser’ proclaims innocence

AP file photo

In this April 15 file court sketch, Yujing Zhang, left, listens to a hearing before Magistrate Judge William Matthewman in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The Associated Press FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Chinese businesswoman defending herself on charges that she trespassed at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and lied to Secret Service agents gave one of the shortest opening statements in legal history Monday, proclaiming her innocence and appreciation for the country that may put her in prison.

After a federal prosecutor gave a 20-minute opening statement laying out Yujing Zhang’s alleged lies that gained her access to the president’s Palm Beach resort on March 30 and her suspicious activities during her brief presence on the grounds, Zhang stood at the defense table for 20 seconds and addressed the 10 women and two men.

“I don’t believe I did anything wrong and that’s what I want to say. USA, thank you,” Zhang said in another unusual turn in an unusual case. She faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutor Michael Sherwin, on the other hand, said evidence and testimony will show that Zhang’s story to club employees and agents contained one lie after another as it evolved. First, the 33-year-old Shanghai consultant told a Secret Service agent outside the resort that she was there to visit the pool and didn’t answer when an employee asked if she was the daughter of a member, he said.

The confusion over who she might be got her past two lines of security and into a reception area, where she surreptitiously took photos and video and told an employee first that she was there for a United Nations friendship meeting that didn’t exist, and then that she was there for a dinner, Sherwin said. When confronted by Secret Service, she dashed into a restroom where an employee saw her frantically texting, he said. He said she then told agents she was there to meet with the president and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, about China-U.S. trade. The president and his family were staying at Mar-a-Lago that weekend, but he was at his nearby golf club when Zhang arrived.

Sherwin said Zhang spoke English well during her interaction with employees and agents, and was “calm, cool and collected.”

“She wasn’t nervous or rattled at all,” Sherwin said an employee would testify. “She was extremely stoic.”

Zhang’s insistence on being her own attorney has frustrated District Judge Roy Altman. On Monday, jury selection had to be delayed as she came into court dressed in her brown jail clothes. Most defendants wear civilian clothes so the jury won’t be prejudiced against them. Zhang said she had not put on the clothes she had been provided because the jail had not given her any underwear. After some discussion of over which agency was responsible, she retired to a holding cell and donned a copper blouse and khaki pants.

Altman tried repeatedly Monday to change Zhang’s mind about representing herself as he has done during every hearing since she fired her public defenders in June. When he demanded that she answer yes or no if she wanted to use her attorneys, who are in court on standby, she went into a long monologue in Mandarin. Altman cut her off before it could be translated, and she said she didn’t want them.

He spoke to Zhang sternly after she told him, “I don’t know why I am here” and said she wasn’t prepared because she said she thought the trial had been canceled.

“You know precisely why you are here,” Altman told her. He has repeatedly accused her at previous hearings of “playing games.”

Zhang primarily used a translator Monday, but at one point told Altman she hadn’t spoken Mandarin in months and was having a hard time following along.

“You speak Chinese — you are from China,” Altman replied.Speech

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