By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Remember Cindy Yang?
She’s the South Florida massage parlor owner who gained notoriety in 2019 for marketing tourism packages to Chinese businessmen featuring access to American politicians, including then-President Trump.
As spelled out in a 33-page report by investigative staff for the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Yang – now known as Li Juan “Cindy” Gong – engaged in multiple schemes to funnel tens of thousands of dollars in excessive and prohibited contributions to several political committees related to Trump.
The scam included reimbursing family members and employees of several family-owned businesses for making illegal conduit contributions and providing foreign nationals with access to political leaders via her political-tourism company, GY US Investments. That included charging Chinese nationals to get into an event and get photographed with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on March 3, 2018.The FEC’s general counsel recommended in June that the commission find reason to believe that Yang broke the law by making contributions in someone else’s name, making excessive contributions and helping the Chinese nationals make illegal contributions.
But in a little-noticed FEC decision this month, the six-member commission did what it has often done when it comes to examining alleged wrongdoing involving Trump’s campaign – it deadlocked and tossed out the case.
FEC REPUBLICANS BLOCK PROBE
Four votes are needed to move a case forward. But the three FEC Republicans, despite conceding the allegations were “serious,” blocked further investigation citing the statute of limitations – even though the limits won’t be reached until December for some allegations and next March regarding the Mar-a-Lago event.
“Attempting enforcement in these Matters would not be a prudent use of agency resources,” wrote Chairman Allen Dickerson and Commissioners Sean Cooksey and James “Trey” Trainor III in a statement explaining themselves. Dickerson, Cooksey and Trainor were appointed to the FEC by Trump.
Retorted Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, in her statement, “An entrepreneur who figured out how to get photographed with the President of the United States and got her foreign clients into receptions at his home is no political naïf. OGC (Office of the General Counsel) recommended moving forward, with a plan of action consistent with longstanding Commission practice and one that I supported. Once again, however, despite the seriousness of the alleged violations, the Commission has failed in its duty to enforce the law.”
“Trump is now 53-0 in FEC enforcement cases,” said Brett Kappel, a Washington, D.C. campaign finance lawyer with the law firm Harmon Curran. “Since he first announced for president in 2015, the FEC has dismissed cases involving either his campaign committee, joint fundraising committees and his Super PACS. The FEC has never voted to find reasons to believe that any of his political committees violated the law, so there have been no investigations.”
Perhaps half those FEC cases were doubtful or frivolous, Kappel said. But the other half were cases where the FEC’s general counsel concluded there was reason to believe a violation of federal election law had occurred and had asked the commission to authorize a full investigation in which subpoenas could be issued to compel the production of information.
But while the FEC has let Yang off the civil hook, it appears she may have more serious legal trouble awaiting her. Three sections of the Dickerson, Cooksey and Trainor statement – a total of about three paragraphs – are blacked out.
“There are two reasons why there are redactions in the MUR (Matter Under Review) document. One is another ongoing investigation that the FEC is doing, and the other is that the Justice Department has pulled rank and said we are going to take over this part of the investigation and you can’t disclose it,” said Kappel. “That may indicate there is still time under the statute of limitations to indict her or others.”
The general counsel’s report and recommendations actually addressed two separate complaints about Yang – the first filed by Common Cause in March 2019, the second filed by the Campaign Legal Center two months later.
Yang, who now lives in Mexico, began fundraising for the Republican Party in 2015. She began marketing political tourism packages after Trump was elected a year later using Chinese language social media, the general counsel’s report says.
Yang denied any wrongdoing, the report says.
TWO COMPLAINTS BASED ON NEWS STORIES
The Common Cause complaint was based on a New York Times story alleging that Yang solicited contributions from nine individuals who appeared to be family and employees so she could meet the $50,000 threshold for a donor photo with Trump. The general counsel’s report names three and says some additional unknown persons involved in the scheme were Yang’s and “knowingly served as conduits for Yang’s contribution scheme.”
“The record demonstrates that Gong (Yang) ‘raised’ sufficient funds to be invited to attend two Trump Victory fundraisers, one on December 2, 2017 in New York City, and another on March 3, 2018 at Mar-a-Lago. She brought Chinese national guests to both fundraisers,” wrote Weintraub.
The Campaign Legal Center complaint relied on reporting about Yang by the Miami Herald, Mother Jones and the Washington Post. The Herald identified 13 Chinese nationals by name who attended the New York fundraiser with Yang, and later four more that attended the Mar-a-Lago fundraiser as her guests. None of those individuals appear in reports filed with the FEC as having contributed to Trump Victory in their own names, the report says.
The FEC’s findings about Chinese nationals getting inside Mar-a-Lago emerge amid a federal court inquiry into national security concerns arising from the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of Trump’s residence and private club that led to the seizure of approximately 11,000 documents in 33 boxes. Among those were more than 300 classified documents marked top-secret, secret or confidential, according to the New York Times. Also found: a number of empty folders with classified markings.
At Trump’s request, Fort Pierce U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has appointed a special master, Brooklyn, N.Y. senior federal Judge Raymond Dearie, to go through those documents looking for “potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege.”
Meanwhile, Cannon’s order barred the Justice Department from “reviewing and using the seized materials for investigative purposes pending completion of the special master’s review or further Court order.” The government appealed, however, and the 11th Circuit has allowed the FBI to continue its investigation while Dearie does his work.
The Director of National Security is conducting a separate review to assess potential harm to the U.S.
The FEC staff’s findings raise questions about precisely when Trump had some of those sensitive government documents shipped to Mar-a-Lago. Were they all boxed and sent as he was moving out of the White House as his term was ending? Or were some previously stored at Mar-a-Lago when the Chinese nationals were roaming around?