Long before Monday’s raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, reportedly to recover classified documents related to nuclear weapons, the Palm Beach club had presented a host of security concerns and been breached numerous times.
The club was the site of numerous trespassing incidents while Trump was in office.
In 2017, a woman named Kelly Ann Weidman crept through the bushes on the northern side of the luxurious resort smeared banana on the windows of cars in the employee parking lot, typed “F**kUTrumpB” on a computer in the club’s Cloister Bar, and snatched balloons from the Grand Ballroom. She was loose on the property for roughly an hour.
The following year, a college kid visiting his grandparents in Palm Beach over Thanksgiving snuck through a tunnel that connects Mar-a-Lago’s beach club with the main property.
“I wanted to see how far I could get,” he told a judge.
In March 2019, Mike Tyson wandered onto Mar-a-Lago through the same beachfront tunnel as a guest of billionaire Jeff Greene. Tyson entered the president’s estate without even presenting an ID, according to The Grifter’s Club, a book by Miami Herald reporters about Mar-a-Lago.
On the same day as Tyson, a Chinese businesswoman named Yujing Zhang entered Mar-a-Lago from the front, saying she was there for a charity event that she knew had been canceled. She was convicted of trespassing, although no espionage charges were brought against her, despite speculation that she was a foreign agent.
It was only after the Zhang incident that the Secret Service held mandatory sessions for club employees on counterintelligence.
In late 2019, a Chinese tourist named Lu Jing wandered onto Mar-a-Lago to take pictures. She was arrested for trespassing — but was acquitted on that charge after her lawyers pointed out that the club did not have “no trespassing” signs and that the entrance she accessed wasn’t guarded. Her trial revealed various details about security at Mar-a-Lago, including the location of several security cameras, the total size of the club’s security staff (13 guards), its apparent lack of a secure perimeter and the fact that staffers maintain daily lists of members and approved guests on digital tablet devices.
In 2020, opera singer Hannah Roemhild had a psychiatric episode and drove her rented SUV through security barriers outside Mar-a-Lago (she did not enter the property), leading Secret Service agents and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies to open fire. She was charged but found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Beyond physical security, the club’s cyber security raised concerns during Trump’s presidency.
In 2018, anti-Trump activist Claude Taylor chartered a boat to take him and a giant, inflatable rat off the shores of Mar-a-Lago. They got close enough that Taylor said he could log onto the Palm Beach club’s unsecured WiFi network. That followed reporting in 2017 by ProPublica and Gizmodo that the club’s lightly secured WiFi networks could be easily penetrated by a hacker.
Trump’s reported storage of sensitive materials at Mar-a-Lago after his presidency isn’t the first time Trump’s conduct at the club has raised national security concerns.
Trump was hosting Shinzo Abe for dinner at Mar-a-Lago in February 2017 — with members and guests present — when word broke that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan. A singer performing for Trump near his table seemed to get the sense something was wrong. “Mr. President, I shouldn’t know this,” someone heard the performer say. Trump shrugged. “It’s just nukes,” the president said. “Sing us a song.”
At that same dinner, member Richard DeAgazio posted a photo to Facebook identifying the Trump aide carrying the so-called “nuclear football,” the briefcase that serves as a mobile command center from which the president can launch a nuclear attack.
Mar-a-Lago doubled its membership fees after Trump’s election and the possibility of a Trump appearance was a key selling point for events at the club.
A South Florida entrepreneur and former massage parlor owner named Cindy Yang started selling tickets for Mar-a-Lago charity events and Trump campaign political events to Chinese businesspeople hoping to meet the president and his inner circle — leading to a federal investigation. (No charges have been brought.)
The feds also investigated Yang and Yujing Zhang as part of a wider probe into potential Chinese intelligence operations in South Florida. At one Mar-a-Lago event heavily advertised on Chinese social media (“The Truth About Israel”), Chinese guests tried to offer electronic devices to club staffers as a way to grease the wheels for an introduction to Trump, according to The Grifter’s Club.