Mar-a-Lago has long been a lure for foreign operatives seeking intelligence and access to Donald Trump and other U.S. political leaders even as the former president haphazardly stored top secret information at the unsecured resort, a former FBI official warned Sunday.
“Any competent foreign intelligence service, whether those belonging to China, those belonging to Iran, to Cuba, certainly including Russia are … and were interested in gaining access to Mar-a-Lago,” Peter Strzok, former deputy assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI, told MSNBC host Katie Phang.
Even without the knowledge that Trump was storing classified documents on the grounds “of course … the intelligence services are going to have been trying to gain access,” said Strzok.
But the situation is “especially concerning” because of “information coming out right now about the absolute lack of any control or memorialization of who gets access to Mar-a-Lago at any given time,” Strzok pointed out.
The FBI earlier this month confiscated several boxes of government documents from Trump’s Florida estate, including classified information with highly sensitive material.
The sworn affidavit supporting the search released Friday indicated that there were “classified documents were strewn all over the facility, not just in the storage room” near the Mar-a-Lago pool, said Strzok.
“Classified documents were recovered from his [Trump’s] office, from the pine hall, from a multitude of places,” he elaborated.
The affidavit noted that documents “have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location.” It added that “highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise” improperly identified.
The sensitive papers could have been accessed by club members, staff or scores of unscreened guests at wedding receptions, parties and fundraisers — at least until they were ordered locked up in June by U.S. officials.
The storage room for some of the retrieved boxes of documents that should have been turned over to the National Archives under the requirements of the Presidential Records Act was near a pool regularly used for club events.
The FBI is now investigating a Russian-speaking Ukrainian immigrant with two fake passports who posed as an heiress of the European Rothschild banking dynasty and attended “multiple” Mar-a-Lago events, who mingled with Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), and other top Republicans, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
In 2019, when security was far stricter during Trump’s presidency, a Chinese national loaded down with several phones and other electronic equipment was arrested at the club. She bypassed security by saying she was going to the pool.
Yujing Zhang was sentenced to eight months in prison and deported to China after being convicted of trespassing and lying to Secret Service agents.
“Just the retention of highly classified documents in improper storage — particularly given Mar-a-Lago [with] the foreign visitors there and others who might have connections with foreign governments and foreign agents — creates a significant national security threat,” former Department of Justice official Mary McCord recently told Reuters.