April 13, 2019

It's hard to believe that this story wouldn't be a major scandal in any other administration. If it came from a Democratic administration, I'm sure the Republican Party would have scheduled hearing upon hearing and already drawn up impeachment papers. The mainstream media would lead with this story day after day.

Instead, the only journalist who seems to be taking this story seriously is Mother Jones' David Corn.

When Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman arrested for allegedly sneaking into President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club on March 30, appeared in court on Monday, a portion of the proceedings focused on a mysterious Chinese businessman named Charles Lee, who has ties to the Communist Party and the Chinese government and who appears to be at the center of this episode. A Mother Jones investigation of Lee has uncovered more questions about his business ventures and background.

According to an affidavit filed by the Secret Service, Zhang was arrested carrying four cellphones, a laptop, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive containing malware. She told a Secret Service agent she had been invited by a Chinese friend named Charles to a “United Nations Friendship Event” between China and the United States at Trump’s resort, where she hoped to “speak with a member of the President’s family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations.” At the hearing, prosecutors noted that during a subsequent search of Zhang’s hotel room, federal investigators found nine thumb drives, five SIM cards, a device used to detect hidden cameras, and about $8,000. But Assistant US Attorney Rolando Garcia noted, “The present charges have no allegation that she’s a spy or this is espionage, or whatever…There are a whole lot of questions that remain to be answered.” And one of those questions was what role this person called Charles played in an international incident that has prompted counterintelligence concerns.

That's worthy of a spy novel, but it's a damned major national security scandal in real life, despite the Trump administration's confidence in the media's collective apathy. Executive Editor of Above The Law, Elie Mystal, told David Gura on Up this Saturday that this is exactly the kind of perfect Trump scandal for which the Constitution explicitly addressed:

"I particularly like this case; this is why the emoluments lawsuit matters so much. People don't understand, like you're not supposed to be able to take foreign money. This is exactly why. It's a way for Trump as the president and Trump as the organization to sell interest, to sell access to Trump the president, and that's why this emoluments lawsuit is so important and needs to go forward and needs more attention. That's the only way you have a chance to stop it."

Unfortunately, so far, the emoluments lawsuit has been received with a fair amount of hostility. I suspect that's as much to do with the lack of public outrage, due in no small part to how casually the story is covered in the media.

It is, in fact, just part and parcel of the media's normalization of all of Trump's transgressions, as this cutesy little feature from Jake Tapper last Sunday exemplifies.

And while Zhang has not been charged (as yet) with espionage, it doesn't take an intelligence expert to know that this story has made its way through intelligence agencies throughout the world, to all nations, allies or no. And it should be absolutely expected that other countries will take advantage of this risk for their own benefit and against ours. And as long as Donald Trump sees an avenue of personal profit in it, he'll let them do it.

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