By all appearances, former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was a dubiously-intelligent stooge who was publicly critical of the Mueller investigation, but that does not necessarily mean he was on Trump's good side.
The New York Times reports that Trump asked Whitaker to replace the U.S. attorney responsible for investigating and prosecuting Trump's former henchman Michael Cohen.
Whitaker reportedly refused and fell out of favor with Trump.
WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge, since Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.
So, if you were wondering why Trump did not nominate Whitaker for a promotion from acting attorney general, this could be it.
There could be multiple reasons why Trump chose to nominate William Barr instead of Whitaker, but Trump is a notoriously petty and shallow man who does not care about policy nearly as much as he cares about loyalty; if he cares about policy at all.
I do not necessarily expect Barr will be any more pleasing to Trump than Whitaker or Jeff Sessions were. He may be terrible, but there are certain lines that none of them will cross because it will be their ass on the line, not Trump's.