Still, the president brushed aside questions about Mr. Whitaker that, to most legal experts, are fundamental: Should he be disqualified because he was not confirmed by the Senate? And should he recuse himself from the Russia case because of his demonstrated hostility to Mr. Mueller’s investigation?
“Matt Whitaker is a very smart man. He is a very respected man in the law enforcement community, very respected, at the top of the line,” Mr. Trump told reporters, adding: “You know, it’s a shame that no matter who I put in, they go after him. It’s very sad, I have to say.”
For the most part these days, Mr. Trump speaks less in sorrow than in anger. His vexed relations with the press have turned bitterly hostile, for example, and his list of grievances keeps getting longer.
Mr. Trump blacklisted Jim Acosta of CNN for ostensibly touching a female White House intern inappropriately during a news conference. When Yamiche Alcindor, a correspondent for PBS, asked him earlier in the session whether his inflammatory language emboldened white nationalists, he snapped, “That’s such a racist question.”
He also went after Abby Phillip, one of Mr. Acosta’s CNN colleagues, and April Ryan, a correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, for asking questions he did not like.
All three are African-American women.
“What a stupid question that is,” Mr. Trump said to Ms. Phillip on Friday, when she asked him something that was on the minds of people all over Washington: Did he want Mr. Whitaker to rein in Mr. Mueller’s investigation? “I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.”
He warned that he might pull the credentials of other reporters who did not treat the presidency with appropriate respect — a step that no previous occupant of the office, even Richard M. Nixon, has taken.