Who is Li Yang, the Asian spa founder who joined Trump’s MAGA movement?
Those pesky federal prosecutors are it again, buzzing around the Trump presidency like flies on a steaming cowpie.
Last week, subpoenas were sent to Trump Victory, a Republican fundraising committee, and Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s private waterfront club in Palm Beach.
At the center of the inquiry are donations made to political events and Trump’s re-election campaign by certain private citizens, including employees of massage parlors linked to Li “Cindy” Yang, a Chinese immigrant and GOP donor who’d been promoting herself as someone with access to the president’s social orbit.
Authorities are trying to find out if any of the money was provided by Chinese nationals or entities of the Chinese government and channeled illegally to the Trump campaign. The massage-parlor connection would be far-fetched anywhere except Florida.
The Herald broke the story that Yang once owned the Jupiter “day spa” where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was secretly videotaped allegedly having sex with prostitutes. He denies the charges.
Yang drew widespread attention in March after a Chinese national talked her way past Mar-a-Lago security while carrying two passports, four cell phones and a thumb drive containing malware. Authorities said the woman, who was arrested, claimed to be trying to attend an event promoted on Yang’s website.
The Justice Department is especially interested in a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser that Trump attended on March 3, 2018. The invitation capped campaign contributions at $5,400, but the cost of getting a signed photo with the president was $50,000.
Yang, who wanted a picture of herself beside Trump, reached out to quite a few people she knew. One of those who wrote a $5,400 check was a person exquisitely named Bingbing Peranio, a former receptionist at one of Yang’s massage parlors.
Massage parlor receptionists typically don’t make enough money to have a spare $5,400 lying around. And Peranio wasn’t the only current or past employee of Yang’s spa chain to give that amount to Trump Victory; some even wrote a second $5,400 check to the president’s re-election campaign.
One can understand why prosecutors became curious. Here we must quote a splendidly understated tidbit of reporting by the New York Times:
“It is rare for workers in the massage and spa business to support candidates for office at such high-dollar levels, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records.”
After Bingbing Peranio was initially identified as a donor, she told reporters she was a supporter of Trump and also was aware that Cindy Yang was prominent among Asian-American Republicans.
She said Yang came to the massage parlor and helped her write out the check to Trump Victory. “I can’t say she was pushing me or not pushing me, but I worked there then,” Peranio said to the Times. “I didn’t say no.”
But she declined to say whether or not Yang had reimbursed her for the $5,400, which would be illegal. Others connected to Yang, including some family members, are now under the same microscope.
In the end, Yang brought in enough donations to get her $50,000 photo with the president, which she posted on Facebook and her company’s website. At the time, she was offering wealthy Chinese clients access to U.S. politicians and Trump, including “VIP activities at Mar-a-Lago.”
It was later revealed that the entrepreneurial Yang had connections with organizations linked to the Chinese government and Communist Party, raising obvious national security questions.
Yang has asserted that she didn’t know Yujing Zhang, the woman arrested with the passports, phones and infected thumb drive at the president’s private club.
Prosecutors now want Mar-a-Lago and the Trump Victory committee to turn over all records relating to Yang, the massage-parlor donors, several companies and a nonprofit group with which Yang is associated.
The nonprofit calls itself the Women’s Charity Foundation. One of its founding members, Xianqin Qu, heads another Florida group that U.S. intelligence says is “directly subordinate” to the Communist Party of China.
Yang, who denies any wrongdoing, is suing The Herald for defamation.
Responding to the new subpoenas, Trump Victory issued a statement saying it “makes every possible effort to ensure” all campaign contributions are legal, and that its policy is to cooperate fully with law enforcement.
No writer of spy novels could ever dream up a plot in which Chinese agents funneled money through strip-mall massage parlors to penetrate the Winter White House. If that turns out to be true, another question of national urgency looms on the horizon:
Who will play Bingbing Peranio in the movie?