Biden Banking Nominee, a 'Lenin Scholar,' Is Fellow at Pro-China Think Tank

Saule Omarova attended Moscow State University on a Lenin Scholarship

Saule Omarova in 2018 / Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
October 18, 2021

President Joe Biden’s pick to regulate the nation’s banking system is a fellow at a think tank that one of the Chinese government’s propaganda agencies has touted as helpful to Beijing’s foreign influence efforts.

Saule Omarova, who received a Lenin Scholarship at Moscow State University and has refused to turn over a thesis she wrote on Karl Marx in the late 1980s, joined the Berggruen Institute last year as a senior fellow. The institute promotes progressive causes and has developed close ties to Chinese leaders. Berggruen’s position on China has earned praise from the Cyberspace Administration of China, which touted a relationship with Berggruen as an opportunity to "influence" foreign audiences.

This is the latest in a series of controversies for Omarova, whom Biden nominated to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. She has already faced resistance to her nomination from the financial industry and Republicans over her alleged anti-capitalist policy positions. Omarova proposed "radically" changing the banking system by having the Federal Reserve accept bank deposits instead of private banks. She has also proposed the creation of a massive New Deal-style federal bureaucracy to oversee the nation’s infrastructure projects. Her proposals have garnered the endorsement of the liberal Sierra Club, which hopes she’ll use her perch as bank czar to regulate the fossil fuel industry.

Omarova’s praise for the economic policies of the Soviet Union has raised eyebrows in Washington, D.C. Omarova said in 2019 that the Soviet model of state-controlled salaries had eradicated the so-called gender pay gap. She scrubbed her résumé of references to her Marx thesis, but Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) has asked her to provide a copy to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee as part of her confirmation process.

Omarova, who has not responded to the Washington Free Beacon’s requests for comment, accused her critics of racism and sexism in an interview with the Financial Times last week. She also denied being a communist sympathizer.

While some Berggruen scholars have criticized China’s human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and protesters in Hong Kong, the think tank has pushed for globalization and increased cooperation between the United States and China through a series of "Understanding China" forums. Berggruen hosted an event for Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2015.

One member of Berggruen’s network is Zheng Bijian, the founder and chairman of the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy. Zheng, who reportedly advises Xi, has held positions within the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus, including as head of the party’s Literature Research Office and executive deputy director of its Publicity Department. Zheng spoke at a Berggruen event in 2018.

In 2017, China’s Cyberspace Administration, which censors internet content, identified Berggruen as a tool of influence for the Chinese government, the National Pulse reported. A Cyberspace Administration memo touted cooperation between Berggruen and state-controlled media outlet China Daily in its efforts to "expand" socialist propaganda.