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Cindy Yang, ex-spa owner accused of selling access to Donald Trump, speaks out to decry 'unfair' treatment

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 22/3/2019 Owen Churchill
a screenshot of a cell phone: Cindy Yang with US President Donald Trump at a Super Bowl party at Mar-a-Lago on February 3. Photo: Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS © Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS Cindy Yang with US President Donald Trump at a Super Bowl party at Mar-a-Lago on February 3. Photo: Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS

The Chinese entrepreneur accused of selling access to US government officials, including President Donald Trump, has broken her silence to defend herself. Cindy Yang spoke out as top Democrats called for an FBI investigation into the potential national security threats posed by her business practices.

In a number of TV appearances on Wednesday, Yang, who was identified earlier this month as the former owner of a day spa allegedly offering sexual services, denied that she had any private conversations with Trump, and called her treatment by the American media “unfair”.

A selfie of Yang, also known as Yang Li and Yang Lijuan, with Trump at a Super Bowl viewing party at Trump’s Florida resort on February 3 drew attention when it was first published by The Miami Herald.

“I just think that if I don’t have a photo with the president, nothing [would have happened],” Yang, sitting alongside her lawyer Michelle Merson, told local Florida station CBS12.

Ron DeSantis et al. posing for a photo: Future Florida governor Ron DeSantis (centre) at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on February 25, 2018. The event was also attended by Cindy Yang (far left). Tickets cost $1,000 per person. Photo: Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS © Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS Future Florida governor Ron DeSantis (centre) at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on February 25, 2018. The event was also attended by Cindy Yang (far left). Tickets cost $1,000 per person. Photo: Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS

Mother Jones magazine reported on March 9 that Yang helped found a company offering Chinese clients access to prominent political figures, including Trump and the US secretary of commerce.

The website for the firm, GY US Investments LLC, was deleted, but a cached version shows photos of Yang with prominent Republican figures, including US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump campaign manager Brad Pascale and Trump himself. It also advertised access to “dinners at the White House and on Capitol Hill”.

For “golden” clients, the site advertised dinner and a signed photograph with the president at a May 2018 fundraising event in Dallas, Texas.

Under US law, it is illegal for political campaigns to accept direct or indirect donations from foreign nationals. Yang has not been charged in relation to the sting at her former day spa or her facilitating foreign clients’ access to fundraising events.

Cindy Yang ‘opposed foreign money crackdown’ at Trump fundraisers

“Although Ms. Yang’s activities may only be those of an unscrupulous actor allegedly selling access to politicians for profit, her activities also could permit adversary governments or their agents access to these same politicians to acquire potential material for blackmail or other even more nefarious purposes,” said a letter senior Democratic members of Congress sent last week to the directors of the FBI, National Intelligence and the Secret Service.

The lawmakers – Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mark Warner and Representatives Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler – called on the FBI to investigate “credible allegations of potential human trafficking, as well as unlawful foreign lobbying, campaign finance and other activities by Ms. Yang” and to provide Congress with an assessment of any counter-intelligence risks posed by her interactions with Trump.

Democrats were peddling in “fake news”, Yang told ABC News on Wednesday, using a phrase popularised by Trump. She denied any involvement in human trafficking, telling the news outlet that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft – the most high-profile arrest in the recent police sting operation on massage parlours in South Florida – was not a client of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa while she was its owner. Kraft has been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at the spa.

a screenshot of a social media post: Cindy Yang and Donald Trump Jnr at a Mar-a-Lago in late 2018. Photo: Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS © Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS Cindy Yang and Donald Trump Jnr at a Mar-a-Lago in late 2018. Photo: Facebook/Miami Herald/TNS

“I work so hard for the American dream,” she said in her interview with CBS12.

Yang, 45, came to the US as a student two decades ago. Since then she has operated various businesses and, in recent years, become active in Republican politics.

Until recently she was an active member of the Asian GOP, an alliance of Asian-American Republicans, where she worked as director of community engagement for the state of Florida. She was fired from that position shortly after news broke of her connection to the prostitution sting operation and her apparent proximity to members of the Trump administration.

Democrats seek probe of Cindy Yang, ex-spa owner pictured with Trump

“We are appalled and dismayed to see the recent development of the Yang incident getting so far stretched to a level of biblical proportions,” the Asian GOP said in a statement on Tuesday in response to Democratic lawmakers’ calls for an investigation into Yang.

She was a “casualty in [the] media’s collective efforts of [a] witch hunt against President Trump,” the statement said, adding that the organisation was not aware of any wrongdoing on Yang’s part during her work at the Asian GOP.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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