Vince Coglianese in the Daily Caller

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded a $5.9 million grant to a University of Chicago Medical Center program run by one of President Barack Obama’s closest friends.

Obama’s longtime friend, Eric Whitaker, runs the Urban Health Initiative (UHI), which was founded as a means of connecting low-income patients with health clinics in their own communities.

The UHI was one of only 26 programs — out of 3,000 applications — to receive a slice of the $1 billion in taxpayer money from the executive’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative, which is aimed at spurring job growth via executive action, reported Keith Koffler at White House Dossier.

HHS has denied any White House involvement in the decision, but the president will have a tough time feigning surprise given his deep ties to the UHI:

  • Eric Whitaker runs the UHI, has known the president since his days at Harvard Law and occasionally vacations with the Obamas.
  • Michelle Obama launched the UHI while working as an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center, which runs the program.
  • Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser, was the chairman of the University of Chicago Medical Center board of trustees until she resigned her post to join the White House.
  • David Axelrod, now-communications director for the Obama campaign, provided public relations services to the UHI after Michelle Obama recommended that he be hired in 2006.

Despite those deep ties, HHS stands by its process, describing the decision making as free from White House influence.

“Applications that met the basic eligibility requirements underwent a competitive, objective review,” an HHS spokesperson told White House Dossier.

Dossier noted that this is only the latest incident where “red flags” have been raised in the administration’s tangled relationship with the UHI.

A September report by The Daily Caller showed that Obama donor George Kaiser gave the UHI $10,000 in 2009 — the same year that Kaiser received the $535 million Department of Energy loan guarantee for Solyndra.