A former analyst for the National Security Agency is calling on Hillary Clinton to explain the emerging details of her campaign chief's connection to the Kremlin.
Lobbying forms made public last month indicate that the U.S. branch of the Russian bank Sberbank has retained the Podesta Group, a Washington-based lobbying firm founded by Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, and his brother, Tony, in 1998.
John Schindler, a security expert and former counterintelligence officer, notes that the bank's majority stockholder is the Russian Central Bank, which controls more than 30 percent of the country's banking assets.
"Sberbank is functionally an arm of the Kremlin, although it's ostensibly a private institution," Schindler wrote in a Thursday article for the Observer.
That relationship has drawn new scrutiny this week, after the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism and the Center for the Study of Corruption and Organized Crime published 11.5 million documents exfiltrated from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Those documents indicate that Sberbank, along with its subsidiaries, were involved in handling at least some of the allegedly billions of dollars in offshore funds held by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials.
"That financial institution isn't exactly hiding in the shadows — it's the biggest bank in Russia, and its reputation leaves a lot to be desired," wrote Schindler. "Nobody acquainted with Russian finance was surprised that Sberbank wound up in the Panama Papers.
"Predictably, Sberbank has blown off the Panama Papers revelations as nothing of consequence, but the fact that they are an arm of the Kremlin and they do plenty of shady things in many countries is a matter of record," wrote Schindler. "As is the fact that the Podesta Group is their lobbyist in America."
Because the bank has deep ties with Russian intelligence services and has been implicated in helping to aid Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Schindler argues that the Podestas should be required to submit filings indicating service to the Kremlin, and that Clinton should be required to say what role they will play in her administration if she is elected president.
"Adding to the shadiness of all this, the Podesta Group is playing along with the useful charade that Sberbank is simply a private financial institution, rather than the state-owned bank that it is, since that would require the lobbyists to register as agents of the Russian government under the Foreign Agent Registration Act," he wrote.
"John and Tony Podesta aren't fooling anyone with this ruse. They are lobbyists for Vladimir Putin's personal bank of choice, an arm of his Kremlin and its intelligence services," he added. "Since the brothers Podesta are presumably destined for very high-level White House jobs next January if the Democrats triumph in November at the polls, their relationship with Sberbank is something they — and Hillary Clinton — need to explain to the public."