In recent weeks, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club has been at the center of intersecting scandals. There’s the curious case of Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman arrested for allegedly sneaking into the resort. A mysterious Chinese businessman named Charles Lee, and Cindy Yang, a founder of a South Florida massage parlor chain and a Trump donor who has had connections to Chinese Communist Party entities, each ran businesses offering Chinese executives and others access to Trump’s club. And all of this has prompted counterintelligence concerns: With businesses peddling a path to Trump’s club, could foreign spy services gain entry to conduct espionage or influence operations?
A Mother Jones investigation has discovered that another Chinese American Trump supporter and fundraiser also tried to sell access to Mar-a-Lago. This Trump funder, Xinyue “Daniel” Lou, says he ended up failing to pull off this venture, but he tells Mother Jones that he was trying to leverage his donations to Trump and his pro-Trump activism in 2016 by packaging a trip for Chinese businesspeople that would include a stop at Mar-a-Lago. “I wanted to develop a high-end business because of my political contributions and my involvement in 2016,” Lou says. He also notes that he has been instructed by the Republican National Committee to say nothing publicly about his fundraising work for the GOP and Trump, which included rounding up people he described as “Chinese” for a Trump fundraiser in 2017.
Lou does not appear to be a big-time operator. But his efforts highlight a striking phenomenon: as Trump privately profits from the presidency by using Mar-a-Lago as a second White House, the president has afforded GOP donors access and plenty of opportunity to mix politics and business at his club and elsewhere. And he has expressed no concern about the ethics or security implications of all this.
Lou, who says he left China 26 years ago and 11 years later became an American citizen, runs a New York City–based company called Long Innovations International Group. Lou’s LinkedIn page notes he attended Peking University in the 1980s and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in the 1990s. His business calls itself as a consulting firm that “will help to connect you with professionals and experts that can provide the skillsets that your circumstances require.” The company, Lou says, attempts to attract Chinese investors to the United States: “If someone invests $1 million in a property, I can get a piece of the action.” Lou also founded an organization called the US-China Entrepreneurs Association.
Last year, both of these outfits promoted the US China Spring Extravaganza—a weeklong trip to the United States, according to promotional material, which offered “elites in business and finance from China” the “opportunities for face-to-face exchanges with American political and business leaders.” The package included visits to the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange. And Lou’s groups promised that the excursion would yield a Trump encounter: “Day Two, Visit Mar A Lago and attend a function attended by one or two Trump family members.” The trip also included a stay at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, and a visit to Trump Tower in New York City. An online brochure for the trip stated, “This will be one of the highest level business exchange program between the United States and China in 2018.”
According to Lou, there was no assurance any clients would meet Trump at Mar-a-Lago. “But I have friends who know people who are members of the club,” he says. And he notes that due to his donations to Trump and the GOP and his volunteer work for the Trump campaign in 2016, “I thought I could arrange some high-profile meetings.” But the trip never happened, he says, because he has had an “increasingly difficult” time arranging US-China projects, in part because of the tensions between Washington and Beijing on trade.
Lou tried to put together this trip to Mar-a-Lago shortly after he raised money for a Trump fundraiser. On his LinkedIn page, Lou notes that he organized pro-Trump campaign events in 2016 and that in December 2017 he brought 30 “Chinese Trump Supporters” to a Trump fundraising breakfast at the Cipriani restaurant in New York City, where Trump spoke. Lou tells Mother Jones that he arranged the trip to the Cipriani event after receiving email invitations to the fundraiser from Ronna McDaniel, chair of the GOP, and casino magnate Steve Wynn, then the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. “I was able to invite a number of people,” Lou recalls, noting that tickets were a minimum of $1,000. That’s “relatively cheap,” he says. “I was able to put together a group of people, and I myself made a contribution.”
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, around the time of the Cipriani event, Lou donated $37,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee of the Trump campaign and the RNC, which hosted the event. He notes that by that point his name had been submitted by members of Trump’s campaign in New York State for a possible job in the Trump administration: “I was more or less a stakeholder, so I needed to make a serious contribution.”
About the time of the Cipriani fundraiser, Lou adds, he collected checks from others for the Trump Victory Committee. He declines to state the total amount he raised as a bundler, but he says it was substantially greater than his own contribution. He insists all these contributors were either from US citizens or permanent residents. (Only US citizens or residents holding a green card are legally allowed to contribute to federal candidates.)
Lou’s group at Cipriani, according to another person present at the fundraiser, was part of a large number of Chinese-speaking Trump supporters attending the function. An Asian American GOP activist involved with the event recently expressed concern that the fundraiser might have drawn illegal donations from Chinese citizens funneling donations through American straw donors. In 2018, the Washington Post reported that an RNC official had confirmed to the newspaper “the presence of Chinese nationals” at this fundraiser, maintaining they were guests of an American donor. The Chinese guests, the RNC official told the Post, had “minimal exposure to President Trump. They attended an event with hundreds of individuals and took a photo from a photo line.”
Asked if the Chinese-speaking people he brought to the fundraiser were Chinese Americans or Chinese nationals, Lou replied that the RNC had asked him not to discuss his fundraising activities. (Foreign nationals are allowed to attend fundraisers—as long as they do not make donations.) “I have been advised and instructed [by the GOP] not to talk to the media,” he says, adding, “I’m restricted. They don’t want me to talk about my role.” But he adds, “I didn’t do anything wrong…I have to follow the law… I can assure you I did…All my guests were transparent to the RNC.”
An RNC official tells Mother Jones, “We only accept donations in accordance with the law. If we do see any evidence of illegal contributions we report it to the proper authorities. If we are notified by the proper authorities that a donation was illegal we would return the money. We deny any wrongdoing on behalf of the RNC or Trump campaign. Further, members of the Trump Victory Finance Committee pledge to abide by federal campaign finance laws. We take every step legally possible to ensure foreign citizens are not able to donate to the RNC and Trump Victory.”
After the Cipriani breakfast, Lou says, the GOP fundraisers thought he was “well connected” and “did great for that event” and McDaniel asked him to become a volunteer fundraiser for the Trump Victory Finance Committee. “I said it would be an honor,” Lou recalls. But an RNC official denies his account, stating, “It’s incorrect to say [McDaniel] asked him to join” the Trump Victory Finance Committee.
Lou says that since the Cipriani fundraiser, he has had a tough time gathering money for Trump among Chinese Americans. “I’m very disappointed in my people,” he comments. And due to the conflict between the United States and China, Lou maintains, his company has been unable to drum up business in the last year and has made no income. “Last year, [I was] barely surviving,” he says. Since his $37,000 in donations to Trump and the RNC, Lou has donated just over $4,700 to Republican causes.
Lou’s page on the Chinese social media platform WeChat is loaded with photos documenting his connections to the GOP and Trump. There are pictures of him attending events at the White House and Mar-a-Lago over the past two years and photos of multiple invitations from the RNC for him to attend Trump fundraisers and RNC meetings across the United States. “Last year was a big year,” Lou says, noting he was invited to several RNC events. A photo from Lou’s Facebook page shows him posing with Trump at a March 10, 2019, fundraising event at Mar-a-Lago.
One post shows his VIP badge from that RNC event at Mar-a-Lago, which featured a breakfast with Trump. In photos from Trump’s victory celebration on election night, Lou poses with Jeff Sessions and stands next to Mike Pence. In other photos from Mar-a-Lago, Lou is pictured with Laura Trump and Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. He also has snaps of himself with Herman Cain, Mick Mulvaney, Nigel Farage, and Larry Kudlow. There is a photo of him outside Trump Tower wearing a red T-shirt that says, “Chinese Americans Love Trump.” Last year, he posted on WeChat an image of Trump’s face superimposed on the Statute of Liberty with the message, “A Great Gift from God.” In April, Lou posted on Facebook a meme exclaiming, “[Rep.] Ilhan Omar wasn’t even elected by Americans! She was elected by 80,000 Somalis that Obama dropped in Minnesota!!” In February, he put up a birther meme: an image with portraits of all the US presidents, except for Barack Obama, with the message, “Happy President’s Day to all our documented Presidents!!”
Last month, the Miami Herald reported that Lou had assorted links to the Chinese government: “During his more than two decades living in New York, Lou has maintained contact with the Chinese government through media connections, cultural events and conferences promoting international investment projects. On August 1, 2016—around the time he began to campaign for President Trump—Lou attended a gala at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the People’s Liberation Army of China.” Lou claims the newspaper overstated the case. He tells Mother Jones he has twice been to the Chinese Embassy but only after being invited by a Chinese American “leader of the Republican Party”—whom he declines to identify—to events held on the grounds of the embassy. He says he was never inside the embassy building.
According to the Herald, at a 2017 conference held at Trump World Tower in New York, “Lou hosted Communist Party officials who promoted [Chinese President] Xi’s latest strategy for expanding China’s global influence—sometimes called ‘The New Silk Road.'” Lou says he was asked to emcee the event and agreed to do so. “As a private businessman, I helped them,” Lou says, adding, “only one guy” involved with the event was associated with the Chinese government. Lou insists, “I have no official channels in China.” And he says that in the past year he has adopted a stance more opposed to the Chinese government and its policies.
The Herald also published a photo of Lou with Cindy Yang at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser for a local charity in early 2018 that was hosted by the president’s sister Elizabeth Trump Grau. This event was featured on the (now disabled) website of Yang’s firm that offered clients access to Mar-a-Lago. A Yang spokesperson told the Herald that Yang did not have a relationship with Lou. Another photo from that night showed Lou and Charles Lee with Trump Grau.
Lou says he met Yang for the first time at that event and had no subsequent “business connection” with her. He also maintains he had no significant interactions with Lee. (Zhang, the alleged intruder at Mar-a-Lago, says she paid $20,000 to a company associated with Lee to gain access to Trump’s club.)
On its Chinese-based website, Lou’s Long Innovations International Group, which was started in 2013, notes that the firm’s chair, Qui Menglong, is “one of the most senior Chinese Republicans in New York” and that he worked for Trump’s campaign. His “forty years of political participation and many years of experience in Wall Street professional services have given him the confidence to provide the best consulting services for Chinese entrepreneurs,” the site says.
The website also highlights the firm’s work with Joseph Cinque, a controversial, longtime associate of Trump and his family. Cinque, known as “Joey No Socks,” is the CEO and president of the American Academy of Hospitality Services. After he celebrated New Years Eve at Mar-a-Lago with Trump at the start of 2017, CNN reported that he had been convicted in 1989 of felony criminal possession of stolen art and sentenced to “conditional discharge.” (A 1995 New York magazine profile described Cinque as a friend of mob boss John Gotti, who died in 2002.) Long Innovations, according to its Chinese website, collaborates with Cinque’s group to issue the “International Star Diamond Award” to businesses and institutions in China. The site features a host of photos of Cinque, including two of him with Trump (as well as photos of Cinque with Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, and other notables).
Lou says he turned over the Chinese-language site to a partner, a Chinese businesswoman: “I gave that domain to her. They developed their own team and built up the website…I didn’t pay any attention to the business in China at all.” It was this business associate, he maintains, who pursued a working relationship with Cinque: “She wanted to use the Long Innovations platform to do business in China and she wanted to do business with Joe.” Cinque’s daughter, Emma Cinque, the president of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, tells Mother Jones that her father and their business have nothing to do with Long Innovations in China or elsewhere.
On its Chinese site, Long Innovations says it has arranged interactions between Chinese entrepreneurs and the White House, Congress, and “the highest [US] government agencies.” It notes, “We will provide our clients with a variety of reliable opportunities to invest in the United States. If customers still have the needs of immigrating to the United States, we will also provide the most reliable immigration solutions.” And it offers assistance to students seeking admission to the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States. Following a list of elite schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Stanford, Columbia, and others, the site says, “we can basically ensure that students can enter the university or research institute of their choice.”
Lou says these Chinese operations have generated no revenue.
In January 2017, Lou organized a trip for about a dozen American and Chinese businesspeople to Trump’s inauguration. After Trump won the election, Lou claimed that the Chinese American vote had been a key bloc for Trump. Exit polls, though, showed Trump collecting between 18 and 27 percent of the Asian American vote. Nevertheless, Lou said at the time that the 2016 election “lays a good foundation for the further development of Chinese power in the United States.”