Nov 20, 2018

Trump privately praises Matt Whitaker's "courage"

Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

President Trump has been telling people privately that he’s impressed by the "courage" acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is showing in the face of burgeoning legal challenges and questions about his history of publicly criticizing the Mueller investigation.

What they're saying: A source familiar with Trump’s thinking said the president has privately used the word "courage." "Clearly what he likes about him is he’s holding his ground, not running for the tall grass," the source said.

  • "You can’t be attorney general if you have to walk away from really important work that an attorney general should be doing. And so you have a duty to really think carefully before you just throw up your hands and say: I don’t want to take that on or I want to run from that particular controversy."

Whitaker isn’t out of the running for the permanent job, but there is some internal opposition to him because of a sense of how difficult he will be to confirm.

  • Trump has shown no great urgency to settle on a permanent replacement for Jeff Sessions and seems happy with Whitaker's current status, a source with direct knowledge told Axios.
  • Several potential replacement names have been tossed around the White House, including Chris Christie, Bill Barr and Mike Luttig, but it’s unclear whether Trump has a personal favorite.

Whitaker’s impartiality about Mueller is being questioned by people on both sides:

  • On CNN last year, Whitaker said: "So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment, and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt."
  • Three Democratic senators filed a lawsuit yesterday questioning the constitutionality of Whitaker's appointment because he’s not Senate confirmed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer praised the suit.

Be smart: People close to the president have formed the impression from their conversations with him that he wants to appoint as A.G. somebody he already knows — not a new face.

  • The Rex Tillerson experience — where Trump took an instant liking to him and decided almost immediately to hire him — is one of his few regrets from his time in office.

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John Kelly defends James Mattis against Trump attacks

John Kelly in the White House in July 2017. Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly defended James Mattis on Thursday after President Trump attacked the former defense secretary as "the world's most overrated general" and claimed on Twitter that he was fired.

What he's saying: “The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly told the Washington Post in an interview. “The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused."

Barr claims "no correlation" between removing protesters and Trump's church photo op

Attorney General Bill Barr said at a press conference Thursday that there was "no correlation" between his decision to order police to forcibly remove protesters from Lafayette Park and President Trump's subsequent visit to St. John's Episcopal Church earlier this week.

Driving the news: Barr was asked to respond to comments from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said Tuesday that he "did not know a photo op was happening" and that he does everything he can to "try and stay out of situations that may appear political."

Updates: Cities move to end curfews for George Floyd protests

Text reading "Demilitarize the police" is projected on an army vehicle during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Washington, D.C.. early on Thursday. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Several cities are ending curfews after the protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people led to fewer arrests and less violence Wednesday night.

The latest: Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are the latest to end nightly curfews. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted Wednesday night that "peaceful protests can continue without a curfew, while San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted that the city's curfew would end at 5 a.m. Thursday.