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Yang is ‘living the American dream’

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By Anna Schecter and Xuan Thai

HIGHLAND BEACH, Fla. — The lawyer for the former owner of a Florida massage parlor says her client, who watched the Super Bowl with President Donald Trump, is just a hardworking Chinese immigrant “living the American dream” and despite media reports to the contrary has never tried to sell access to Trump.

Li “Cindy” Yang owns a number of massage parlors in South Florida, and once owned the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft allegedly solicited prostitution. After Kraft’s bust a selfie of Yang with the president at the Trump International resort’s Super Bowl party went viral, followed by questions in the media about whether Yang had exploited her access to him.

First reported by the Miami Herald, a photo on the Facebook page of Li Yang showed her posing with President Donald Trump at a Super Bowl watch party at the president’s West Palm Beach country club.via Facebook

Michelle Merson, one of the lawyers on a team representing Yang, told NBC News that the accusations have shocked her client, who has not been charged with anything.

“She is being accused of human trafficking, providing favors to Chinese politicians and businesses by selling access to the president,” said Merson. “She’s being accused of some very, very serious things that she is totally in the dark for… [and] she denies everything.”

Though she sold the Orchids of Asia spa long ago, Yang continues to run other day spas, and she contributes money to political and charitable causes, said Merson. Since 2017 Yang has contributed $40,000 to Republican and pro-Trump PACS, according to a review of records, and locals say she was also known for buying tables at charity events around Palm Beach, sometimes paying in cash.

“As far as we know Ms. Yang was just excited about being involved in politics and charities and all kinds of things in this country,” said Merson, acknowledging the firm has just started digging into her case, and had to hire a translator to help with the language barrier.

“I think she was just fascinated with Donald Trump the way a lot of people are.”

Yang came to the U.S. in 2003, and her English can be hard to understand, according to people who know her from Palm Beach society, and who say racism and the language barrier might be playing a part in the media coverage of Yang.

“She seemed like a nice person, socially out and about,” said Karyn Turk, a Palm Beach resident and conservative radio host who is married to one of the lawyers representing Yang.

Carol Brophy, who also appears in Yang’s famous selfie with Donald Trump, said she does not know Yang, and said Yang “photo bombed” her “moment” with the president.

One of Yang’s other lawyers, Evan Turk, said “the evidence indicates that our client has been falsely accused in a manner that she may never recover from.”

“Her name, her reputation and her honor have been destroyed,” Turk added.

The White House said in a statement that the president does not know Yang.

Yang wants to clear her name, said Merson, and is worried about being linked to alleged sex trafficking. Kraft was arrested for soliciting prostitution as a byproduct of a larger law enforcement investigation of alleged human trafficking at area massage parlors. According to local police, women were brought from China on temporary work visas believing they would have legitimate jobs.

“She is scared, she is traumatized … she is in hiding,” Merson said.

After the Miami Herald published her picture with Trump, Mother Jones reported on her company, GY Investments, and the company’s website, which appeared to advertise opportunities to get close to President Trump for a price.

An archived and translated version of her now defunct website offers opportunities for “taking photos with President Trump” and an “opportunity to interact with the president, the Secretary of Commerce and other political figures.”

Merson said Yang is misunderstood and will be ready to tell her story soon. She said Yang has not been contacted by any state or federal investigators and is not a member of Trump’s Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago. Some in Palm Beach, however, say that in the past Yang seemed to have the kind of access to the club that members have. The initiation fee at Mar-a-Lago is $200,000, and annual dues are $14,000.

Berndt Lembcke, managing director of Mar-a-Lago, said the club never comments about members or membership.

Kraft has denied engaging in any illegal activity and has pleaded not guilty.

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s Hollywood ties spark ethics questions in China trade talks

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/ Source: CNBC.com

By Emma Newburger/CNBC

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of President Donald Trump’s key negotiators in the U.S.-China trade talks, has pushed Beijing to grant the American film industry greater access to its markets.

But now, Mnuchin’s ties to Hollywood are raising ethical questions about his role in those negotiations. Mnuchin had been a producer in a raft of successful films prior to joining the Trump administration.

In 2017, he divested his stake in a film production company after joining the White House. But he sold that position to his wife, filmmaker and actress Louise Linton, for between $1 million and $2 million, The New York Times reported on Thursday. At the time, she was his fiancée.

That company, StormChaser Partners, helped produce the mega-hit movie “Wonder Woman,” which grossed $90 million in China, according to the Times. Yet, because of China’s restrictions on foreign films, the producers received a small portion of that money. Mnuchin has been personally engaged in trying to ease those rules, which could be a boon to the industry, according to the Times.

Mnuchin’s 2018 disclosure, which was obtained by the Times, shows StormChaser listed as one of Linton’s assets. Because the couple is now married, the asset is considered Mnuchin’s. And he is owed that same $1 million to $2 million, with additional interest, from the company in 2026, the 2018 form disclosed.

Senate Democrats on Thursday questioned Mnuchin about his financial holdings. He responded during the hearing that he has complied with rules of career ethics officials inside the Treasury Department, but declined to discuss details of the transaction.

“I am advised by people at Treasury that I am fully in compliance and I have no ethical issues,” Mnuchin said at the hearing. The Office of Government Ethics has not yet certified his 2018 financial disclosure, the first since his marriage to Linton, the Times reported.

Since trade talks began last year, film lobbyists have met with Mnuchin’s top deputies and officials from the Commerce Department and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Mnuchin has reportedly been particularly responsive to lobbying from the film industry.

StormChaser did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

A Treasury Department spokesperson said in a statement: “Treasury’s career ethics lawyers certified the Secretary’s financial disclosure on June 27, 2018 and identified no outstanding conflicts of interest. The Secretary is in full compliance with his ethics agreement. We continue to work with the Office of Government Ethics to obtain certification of the disclosure.”

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Pompeo says he remains hopeful about North Korea denuclearization talks

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By Abigail Williams

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the U.S. is hopeful denuclearization talks with North Korea will continue despite threats by a senior North Korean official to pull out of the negotiations and resume missile testing.

The official, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, “left open the possibility that negotiations would continue for sure,” Pompeo told reporters. “It’s the administration’s desire that we continue to have conversations.”

He also responded directly to threats that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might consider resuming missile tests.

“In Hanoi, on multiple occasions, he spoke directly to the president and made a commitment that he would not resume nuclear testing, nor would he resume missile testing,” Pompeo said. “That’s Chairman Kim’s word. We have every expectation that he will live up to that commitment.”

North Korea and the United States failed to reach agreement last month at the second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim, and the two sides left in a stalemate over how far North Korea must go toward denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Hui blamed Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton for the breakdown in talks.

“I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” Choe said, according to The Associated Press. “We have neither the intention to compromise with the U.S. in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation.”

Pompeo brushed off the attacks.

“It’s not the first time. I have a vague recollection of being called ‘gangster-like’ from a visit that I took one time previously,” Pompeo said. “And following that we continued to have very professional conversation.”

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Bernie Sanders gets stitches after cutting head on shower door

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 / Updated 

By Jane C. Timm

2020 campaign is leaving its mark — on Bernie Sanders’ head.

The Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont independent senator cut his head on the edge of a shower door, his campaign said on Friday, and visited a walk-in clinic as a “precaution.”

He was given seven stitches and an otherwise clean bill of health.

“The senator has proceeded with all of his scheduled events,” the campaign said in a statement.

Sanders, who was a Democratic contender in 2016 before running again for the 2020 nomination, is 77.



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