WASHINGTON — A federal probe into malfeasance in the Illinois state contract and grant program drew close to a personal friend of President Obama this week when Quinshaunta Golden, a chief of staff for former Illinois Health Secretary Eric Whitaker, was indicted on theft, bribery and fraud charges Wednesday.
A federal prosecutor declined to answer questions from reporters on Thursday as to whether Whitaker, who is a regular golf partner of Obama's and played with him over the weekend as part of the small party celebrating the president's birthday, would get snagged in the federal probe.
Whitaker has said he's not involved in Golden's alleged crimes. A White House official declined a request for the comment on the matter from BuzzFeed on Thursday.
According the Chicago Sun-Times, U.S. Attorney James Lewis "gave no indication that Whitaker...engaged in any wrongdoing himself or knew about his former chief of staff allegedly pocketing as much as $433,000 in kickbacks on $13 million worth of state grants and contracts she oversaw."
"I honestly had the feeling you might ask, and I accept that you're responsible when you ask," Lewis said. "But I'm responsible for what I answer, and my answer is there is nothing in the material you have today that leads towards an answer to that question."
The Chicago Tribune reported Whitaker is cooperating with the probe.
"I had no first-hand knowledge of the activities outlined in this indictment and was not involved in any way," he said in a statement. "As requested by the U.S. attorney, I have been fully cooperating with the investigation into these matters."
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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