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White House says staffer who harassed reporter has been suspended for one week

Christopher Wilson
·Senior Writer
·3-min read

President Biden’s communications team says it won’t be firing a staffer who threatened and made misogynistic comments to a reporter last month.

Vanity Fair reported Friday that White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo told Politico reporter Tara Palmeri, “I will destroy you,” in an effort to kill a story on his relationship with a different reporter. Ducklo also made misogynistic comments and said Palmeri was covering the relationship only because she was jealous.

According to the report, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield and Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn “acknowledged that Ducklo’s handling of the call with Palmeri was inappropriate” but also “took aim at Palmeri by accusing her of breaking an off-the-record agreement with Ducklo.”

White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo listens as press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)
White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

“TJ Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life,” Psaki tweeted Friday afternoon. “He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President. In addition to his initial apology, he has sent the reporter a personal note expressing his profound regret. With the approval of the White House Chief of Staff, he has been placed on a one-week suspension without pay. In addition, when he returns, he will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico.”

While the comments occurred last month, the White House announced the suspension only after the publication of the Vanity Fair story. When asked about the delay at Friday’s briefing, Psaki said they were dealing with Politico privately and that’s what they thought was appropriate at the time.

Psaki was also asked about the fact that Ducklo would still be working with female staffers, but she did not directly answer the question, reiterating that the conduct was unacceptable and that she and others had talked to Ducklo about his conduct.

“I take this very seriously. I’m a woman, obviously, but I’ve been in this town working in press and communications for nearly 20 years, and I think many of you know and have worked with me closely,” Psaki said, “and many of you know many people in this building, including the president, who take these allegations quite seriously.”

Psaki noted that Ducklo made the remarks while discussing a story that involved his personal life.

On his first day in office, Biden addressed hundreds of political appointees at their swearing-in and said, “I’m not joking when I say this: If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House February 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Palmeri is not Ducklo’s colleague, so his actions would not technically qualify under the president’s pledge, but the deputy press secretary’s comments would at least violate the spirit of the message. When asked about this claim, Psaki reiterated that she did not find the conduct acceptable but that the one-week suspension was severe, despite its falling short of Biden’s promise of an immediate termination.

Psaki also stated that the president was not involved in the decision, which was made by her with the permission of White House chief of staff Ron Klain.

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