UPDATED at 2:30 P.M. EDT on 2019-03-19
Senior Democrats in Congress have called on the FBI to investigate the activities of a businesswoman amid reports that she could pose a national security threat.
A chain of massage parlors owned by Cindy Yang are "suspected of involvement in prostitution and human trafficking in which immigrant women are forced to serve as sex workers," according to a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and other heads of intelligence services dated March 15.
"Ms. Yang also reportedly created a business named GY US Investments that may be selling access to the President and members of his family to clients from China," said the letter, which was signed by Mark R. Warner, Adam B. Schiff, Dianne Feinstein and Jerry Nadler of both House and Senate judicial and intelligence committees.
"On Ms. Yang's website, which has since been taken down, her company offered clients 'the opportunity to interact with the President, the [American] Minister of Commerce, and other political figures' and also offered to arrange 'White House and Capitol Hill dinners,'" the letter said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday that they also supported the requests made in the letter.
"The facts in this situation are very concerning, and we urge Director Wray to adhere to the joint bicameral requests of the Democratic Senate ranking members and Democratic House chairmen and start an investigation," Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.
According to the letter, Yang arranged for a group of Chinese executives to attend a 2017 Trump fundraiser in New York. It cited reports that Yang is "a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago, has visited the White House on at least one occasion, and was photographed with the President at a 2019 Super Bowl party at his West Palm Beach golf club."
"If true, these allegations raise serious counterintelligence concerns," the letter said. "China has frequently used non-traditional intelligence collectors and businesspersons to compromise targets."
"We therefore request that the FBI conduct criminal and counterintelligence investigations into credible allegations of potential human trafficking, as well as unlawful foreign lobbying, campaign finance and other activities by Ms. Yang," it said.
Questions about existing probes
Yang's lawyer accused the Democrats of being on a political mission while the Republican party denied any wrongdoing.
"We have seen the Democratic partisan letter and allegations. Our firm will represent our client and her interest as an American through any developments in this case. It seems as another politically driven expedition. We will be addressing these matters when appropriate," said Yang's attorney, Evan Turk, in a statement issued to U.S. media.
The New York Times quoted a spokesman for the Republican National Committee as denying “any wrongdoing on behalf of the R.N.C. or Trump campaign.”
“We only accept donations in accordance with the law,” the spokesman said in a statement. “If we do see any evidence of illegal contributions, we report it to the proper authorities. If we were notified by the authorities that a donation were illegal, we would return the money.”
The letter also requested answers to questions about existing investigations, counterintelligence risks posed by Yang's activities, and interactions to date between Yang, her clients, and the President, those close to him and senior officials.
The letter asked for details of donor vetting procedures used by the Trump campaign, and the level of access accorded to Yang, and whether it was linked to donations by her or her clients.
"Who created the guest list for the President's 2019 Super Bowl party, and at whose request was Ms. Yang invited to the event?" it said.
The letter requested answers from the FBI and the intelligence community by March 21.
Last month, Chinese pro-democracy activists submitted a petition to the FBI calling for a detailed investigation into Beijing's influence operations among the Chinese diaspora on U.S. soil.
Activist Zheng Cunzhu said the Chinese Communist Party has used Chinese fellowship associations and chambers of commerce to buy off leading figures in the overseas Chinese community to serve its interests.
"There are a lot of informants, reporting the activities of the Chinese community to the Chinese Communist Party, causing fear among Chinese people," Zheng told RFA on Feb. 19.
"So I think we need to stand up," he said. "We hope that the U.S. government will take action to cancel the green cards of Chinese Communist Party spies and so-called patriotic overseas Chinese, and send them back to China."
Reported by C.K. for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.