Eric Whitaker, one of Barack Obama’s closest friends and Michelle Obama’s former colleague at the University of Chicago Medical Center, allegedly offered to bribe Jeremiah Wright $150,000 into shutting up during the 2008 presidential campaign, according to Edward Klein, author of a new book about the Obamas. Obama allegedly met with Wright ten days after giving his famous race speech and pleaded with him to be quiet and cancel his speaking engagements, but Wright refused.
The news of Whitaker’s alleged bribery comes just days after theDepartment of Health and Human Services awarded a $5.9 million grant to Whitaker’s Urban Health Initiative (UHI) at the University of Chicago Medical Center, and months after Whitaker served on a host committee for a January Chicago fundraiser for Obama. In 2011, the feds sent four subpoenas to Whitaker-funded organizations.
UHI is one such program he now heads as a vice president at the University of Chicago. It was one of only 26 grantees awarded out of an applicant pool of more than 3,000. Interestingly, none other than Michelle Obama worked at UHI and received a six-figure salary increase just after her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate. (Her position was eliminated after the Obamas left for the White House.)
Whitaker, who is a parishioner at Trinity United Church of Christ, would have had ample opportunity to bribe Wright. In fact, he may have felt like he owed Obama. In April 2003, Whitaker landed the job as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, where he oversaw a $400 million budget, until he resigned in October 2007 to serve as an executive at UHI. Obama apparently got him the job by hooking him up with Tony Rezko.
“Somebody who I do remember talking directly to Tony [Rezko] about was Dr. Eric Whitaker,” Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times in March 2008. “[Whitaker] had expressed an interest in that job. I did contact Tony, or Tony contacted me, and I have him a glowing recommendation because I thought he was outstanding.”
Outstandingly connected, that is. Indeed, so connected was Whitaker to the Blagojevich machine that Fred Yang, a top executive at the political consulting firm Peter D. Hart Research Group Associates, and Bob Greenlee, Blagojevich’s disgraced deputy governor, recommended him for the vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Obama and Whitaker have been friends since the two met and played pickup basketball back in graduate school at Harvard. They have vacationed together in Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard, and Norway. Whitaker is so close with Obama that, according to Jodi Kantor, he doesn’t even need an invitation to go to the White House. He simply just emails that he is coming over.
If Obama did try to bribe Rev. Wright to keep quiet, Whitaker would have been the logical conduit.