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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.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Kellyanne Conway's parting power pointers

Kellyanne Conway addresses the 2020 Republican National Convention. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Kellyanne Conway has seen power exercised as a pollster, campaign manager and senior counselor to President Trump. Now that his term in office has concluded, she shared her thoughts with Axios.

Why it matters: If there's a currency in this town, it's power, so we've asked several former Washington power brokers to share their best advice as a new administration and new Congress settle in.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP holdouts press on with plans to crush Cheney

Screenshot of emails to a member of Congress from individuals who signed an Americans for Limited Government petition against Rep. Liz Cheney. Photo obtained by Axios

Pro-Trump holdouts in the House are forging ahead with an uphill campaign to oust Rep. Liz Cheney as head of the chamber's Republican caucus even though Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told them to back down.

Why it matters: What happens next will be a test of McCarthy's party control and the sincerity of his opposition to the movement. Cheney (R-Wyo.) is seen as a potential leadership rival to the California Republican.

Democrats aim to punish House GOP for Capitol riot

Speaker Nancy Pelosi passes through a newly installed metal detector at the House floor entrance Thursday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats plan to take advantage of corporate efforts to cut funding for Republicans who opposed certifying the 2020 election results, with a plan to target vulnerable members in the pivotal 2022 midterms for their role in the Jan. 6 violence.

Why it matters: It's unclear whether the Democrats' strategy will manifest itself in ads or earned media in the targeted races or just be a stunt to raise money for themselves. But the Capitol violence will be central to the party's messaging as it seeks to maintain its narrow majorities in Congress.