That drew criticism from Democrats because Whitaker, who would now take over responsibility for overseeing Mueller and his investigation, has been critical of the Mueller probe, saying it should be scaled back.
Whitaker has not been a fan.
A personal connection to a Mueller witness is unlikely to sway Whitaker or the White House when it comes to recusal, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein supervised the probe despite being a witness himself.
The Mueller team is seeking information related to Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser who has been at the center of the Mueller probe in recent weeks. The president's lawyers have argued he has vast privilege under the Constitution to hire or dismiss almost anyone within the executive branch.
Before Trump gave a news conference on Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Sessions and told him that Trump wanted him out, the official said.
The president has repeatedly called the probe into alleged Russian collusion with his campaign a waste of time and money. "I want that curtain ripped aside". That includes implying he had inside knowledge in separate email exchanges with a Breitbart editor and Steve Bannon, the then-Trump campaign chairman, just days before WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
"Sessions did not do the thing he could have done to better protect Rosenstein, and through Rosenstein, the Mueller investigation", Vladeck said.
Under the special counsel regulations, the attorney general must notify the leaders of congressional judiciary committees of any time he rejected a proposed action by Mueller because he deemed it "inappropriate or unwarranted" under department policy. He has previously said that he saw no basis for firing Mueller.
There have been rumors that Graham was being considered for the attorney general job.
"[Whitaker] is a strong supporter of President Trump's agenda on religious liberty, immigration, drugs, violent crime, and protecting the rule of law", a senior Trump administration official who was not authorized to speak on the record tells Conservative Review. "Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference-regardless of who is AG".
Whitaker himself meanwhile offered little clue about his intentions in a bland statement to reporters thanking Trump for his appointment, praising his former boss as a "dedicated public servant" and adding he would work to leading a department that conformed to the "highest ethical standards". Democrats cited his past comments about Mueller as evidence that he too must recuse. They also said they will continue to conduct parallel investigations alongside special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, and urging them to preserve all relevant documents.
The Mueller investigation has so far produced 32 criminal charges and four guilty pleas from Trump associates.
Progressive activists denounced Whitaker as a political operative.
Before he became Sessions' chief of staff, Whitaker was an accomplished athlete and attorney in Iowa. He is from Des Moines and attended the University of Iowa where he played football.
He served as the USA attorney in the state's southern district, was elected state attorney general in 1994 and then to the Senate in 1996.
During a 2014 debate when Whitaker was running for U.S. Senate, he said appointed judges should have a "biblical view of justice".
"I don't agree with anything Trump does but I especially don't agree with this", Tania Lopez, who was at the protest, said. He's been an advocate for sharply restricting the avenues down which Mueller's investigators can travel, as when he responded to reports that Mueller might be looking into Trump's financial relationships with Russians.
"I think if you were to ask anyone with DOJ experience they would say 'Huh?"