Chinese woman arrested at Mar-A-Lago club wants to fire lawyers, represent herself

The Chinese woman charged with trying to illegally enter President Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida surprised a federal judge Tuesday when she asked to fire attorneys and represent herself.

Yujing Zhang, 33, was at a routine status hearing regarding whether to delay her trial -- which is scheduled to start next week -- when she told U.S. District Judge Roy Altman that she wished to dismiss her public defenders.

"I don't need the attorneys, thank you," Zhang told Altman through an interpreter at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.

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Altman then asked if Zhang wanted to represent herself or if she wanted a different lawyer.

Yujing Zhang, seen in this April 15, 2019 file court sketch, told U.S. District Judge Roy Altman on Tuesday that she wants to fire her attorneys and represent herself.

Yujing Zhang, seen in this April 15, 2019 file court sketch, told U.S. District Judge Roy Altman on Tuesday that she wants to fire her attorneys and represent herself. (Daniel Pontet via AP)

"Today, I don't want the attorney," Zhang replied through the translator. She didn't offer an explanation as to why she wanted to make the change.

Altman tried to dissuade Zhang, telling her, "You understand, I've been a lawyer for a long time and I think this is a very bad decision?"

"I understand, but I hope I can have this opportunity," she replied.

Zhang, a Shanghai-based business consultant, faces up to five years in prison on charges of unlawful entry and making false statements after trying to enter Mar-A-Lago on March 30. Secret Service agents previously said Zhang arrived in the U.S. just days before the Mar-a-Lago tri. She has pleaded not guilty.

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The 33-year-old speaks some English, according to court documents, but the extent of her language skills are in dispute. One of Zhang's federal public defenders also raised questions about her mental health to the judge, according to the Miami Herald.

Altman said he would not allow Zhang to dismiss her attorneys until she has been examined by a psychiatrist. If deemed competent, the judge said, she could represent herself.

“I don’t want to see a doctor,” Zhang told the court.

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The public defenders had asked Altman to postpone the trial's scheduled May 28 start, saying they haven't had enough time to fully prepare her defense, as many of the documents they're reviewing are written in Mandarin. Prosecutors were not opposed and Altman indicated he would grant the request, according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutors have said Zhang was carrying four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive when she entered Mar-a-Lago. She reportedly told agents she feared the items would be stolen if she left them in her hotel room. However, when agents searched her room at a nearby hotel, they say they discovered $8,000 in U.S. and Chinese currency in addition to a signal detector meant to spot hidden cameras, according to federal prosecutors

​Yujing Zhang being led into federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., in April.

​Yujing Zhang being led into federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., in April. (William Hennessy Jr./CourtroomArt.com)

Zhang's public defenders have said she came to Mar-a-Lago believing there would be a dinner that evening for a United Nations group. The event was reportedly part of a $20,000 travel package Zhang said she purchased from a man named "Charles," whom she only knew through social media. Her lawyers have pointed to a receipt Zhang received from Charles Lee, a Chinese national who promotes such events at Mar-a-Lago, and a flyer she had promoting it.

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Lee ran the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which is not affiliated with the U.N., and was photographed at least twice with Cindy Yang, a Republican donor and former Florida massage parlor owner. Yang made news earlier this year after it was learned she allegedly promised Chinese business leaders, via her consulting firm, access to Mar-a-Lago where they could mingle with the president.

The president was visiting Mar-a-Lago the weekend of Zhang's arrest but was golfing at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach when she arrived and was never near her.

Fox News' Nicole Darrah,  Lukas Mikelionis, Samuel Chamberlain, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.