Judge allows government to enter evidence that is so secret even the defendant cannot see it.

The scope of a trespassing case involving President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club broadened this week when a federal judge ruled that prosecutors can introduce secret evidence that, if revealed, would threaten the nation’s security.

The decision signals that the case against Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman accused of sneaking into Trump’s private club in March, may involve national security breaches or espionage attempts.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Roy Altman in Fort Lauderdale means the government can introduce evidence that the defendant, Zhang, and the public, cannot see.

U.S. District Court Judge Roy Altman ruled Tuesday that prosecutors could enter the classified evidence in the case against Yujing Zhang, the 33-year-old Chinese woman accused of lying to federal agents and sneaking into Trump’s members-only club on March 30.

The evidence is protected, Altman wrote, because its disclosure could cause “serious damage to the national security of the United States.”

“This implies that there is more to this case than simply trespassing,” said Brian Fonseca, a national security expert and director of Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy. “It seems there are some links that prosecutors are trying to draw between this case and Chinese intelligence.”

A federal investigation into possible Chinese espionage in South Florida, including local business people suspected of gathering intelligence on behalf of the Chinese government, is underway, the Miami Herald has reported.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin last month made the request to submit confidential evidence under the Classified Information Procedures Act, which protects the government from divulging national security secrets that are vital to court cases.

If a defendant accessed classified information such information would be protected from disclosure under the act, Fonseca said.

Agents did not accuse Zhang of accessing classified information when she allegedly lied to U.S. Secret Service agents to get past a Mar-a-Lago security checkpoint, carrying with her four cell phones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive.

Zhang, who is representing herself and says she is a Shanghai investment consultant, hasn’t been charged with espionage, a capital crime.

She first claimed to be a Mar-a-Lago member heading for the pool, agents said. She later told club managers she was there for an event, though no events were scheduled that evening.

Investigators later searched Zhang’s room at the The Colony Hotel in Palm Beach and found nearly $8,000 in cash, another cell phone, nine USB drives, five SIM cards and a device that can be used to detect hidden cameras.

The intrusion sparked scrutiny of security at Trump’s semi-public club, a frequent destination for the president during the winter season.

Trump was in town when Zhang was caught at Mar-a-Lago, though there’s no evidence she got close to the president.

Zhang paid Chinese businessman Charles Lee $20,000 to travel from Shanghai to Palm Beach for a gala at Mar-a-Lago, Assistant Public Defender Kristy Militello said.

Cell phone records indicated Zhang knew that the event featuring Trump's sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, had been canceled.

The event raised suspicions for another reason: It was promoted by Cindy Yang, a Chinese-American entrepreneur in the national spotlight for a now-viral selfie with Trump and links to the Chinese government through South Florida groups tied to China’s intelligence gathering operations.

Yang, who has a home in Wellington, once owned the Jupiter massage parlor where, years after she sold the spa, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was accused of soliciting prostitution. Kraft denies the allegations.

lramadan@pbpost.com

@luluramadan