FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The trial of a Chinese businesswoman charged with lying to a Secret Service agent and trespassing at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club will be heard by a jury of 10 women and two men after their selection first bogged down Monday over the defendant’s lack of underwear.
The bizarre case took a weird turn before the potential jurors were brought into the courtroom, when defendant Yujing Zhang told Judge Roy Altman that she was wearing brown jail garb instead of civilian clothing because she had not been provided any underwear. Defendants generally wear civilian clothing during trials to not prejudice jurors against them.
After some discussion about which agency was supposed to provide Zhang with underwear, she was taken to a holding cell and changed into a copper-colored blouse and khaki slacks found in her hotel room after her March arrest.
Zhang is acting as her own attorney during the federal trial, much to Altman’s frustration – but at his suggestion did consult with her former public defender Kristy Militello during jury selection. But she then said she would not give an opening statement later Monday nor allow Militello to give one.
Altman tried repeatedly Monday to change the 33-year-old Shanghai consultant’s mind as he did during every pretrial hearing since she fired her public defenders in June and urged her to let them try the case. When he demanded that she answer yes or no, she went into a long monologue in Mandarin. Altman cut her off before it could be translated, and she finally said she didn’t want them.
He spoke to Zhang sternly Monday before jury selection 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.
Soon after, 45 potential jurors were brought into the courtroom. Several told Altman they have negative feelings about Trump, but Altman, a Trump appointee, assured them the president has no direct connection to the case. Broward County is a Democratic stronghold.
Zhang was arrested March 30 after she allegedly lied to get past a Secret Service agent guarding Mar-a-Lago, saying she was there to use the pool. She made it to the lobby where she told a receptionist she was there for a United Nations friendship event that night and had come early to take pictures. That event had been canceled and prosecutors say Zhang had been informed. The president was staying at Mar-a-Lago that weekend, but was at his nearby golf club when Zhang arrived. She faces up to six years if convicted.
Prosecutors have filed under seal secret evidence that they say has national security implications, even though Zhang is not charged with espionage. The Secret Service said when agents detained Zhang at Mar-a-Lago she was carrying a computer, a hard drive, four cellphones and a thumb drive containing malware, although agents later recanted that accusation.
Agents said Zhang told them she brought the electronics to Mar-a-Lago because she feared they would be stolen if left at her nearby hotel, but in her room they allegedly found a device to detect hidden cameras, computers, $8,000 in cash plus credit and debit cards, all in the open.
Her former public defenders are on standby in case she changes her mind about representing herself. They have said she appears mentally competent, but she wouldn’t speak to a psychologist. They said Zhang’s Chinese relatives told them she has no mental health problems.
By TERRY SPENCER
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