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White House deputy press secretary suspended after allegations of verbally harassing a reporter

TJ Ducklo was put on a one-week leave without pay.
TJ Ducklo
White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo, at a press briefing at the White House on Feb. 9.Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON — White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo was suspended for one week without pay on Friday, the administration said, after a report surfaced detailing allegations that he verbally harassed and threatened a female reporter from Politico in January.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Ducklo's suspension following a report from Vanity Fair that said Ducklo had threatened the reporter after he learned that Politico was planning to publish an article on his relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond.

Ducklo is expected to return to work after the suspension. Ducklo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Joe Biden campaigned on a message that he would restore respect and civility to the White House, frequently criticizing the behavior of the previous president and his staff, including how the press was treated.

“I am not joking when I say this: If you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts,” Biden said during a virtual swearing-in of appointees on his first day in office.

Politico said they reached out to the White House in January with questions about Ducklo, a former employee of the NBC News communications department, and McCammond, who is also a contributor for NBC and MSNBC.

Vanity Fair reported that Ducklo then called Tara Palmeri, a Politico reporter, on Jan. 20th and made "derogatory and misogynistic comments" and threatened to "destroy" her.

On Jan. 21st, Playbook, Politico's flagship morning news letter of which Palmeri is a co-author, hinted at Ducklo's attacks. "Serious question on our minds this morning: Does this standard apply to how mid-level press aides treat reporters?," the authors wrote of Biden's commitment from just the day before to fire aides who step out of line.

Politico said they then informed the White House on Feb. 8th that they intended to move forward with an article on Ducklo and McCammond.

Hours later, People magazine published a flattering profile on Ducklo and McCammond's relationship that was tweeted approvingly by several top White House officials.

Psaki acknowledged on Friday that she had known about the incident involving Ducklo and Palmeri for weeks but had dealt with it in a "private manner." Ducklo's suspension was not announced until after the Vanity Fair article published.

Psaki said that Ducklo would no longer be assigned to work with Politico reporters once he returned from his suspension.

"TJ Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life. He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President," Psaki said in a tweet. "In addition to his initial apology, he has sent the reporter a personal note expressing his profound regret."

“I take this very seriously,” Psaki told reporters Friday afternoon. “He [Ducklo] is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the president nor is it the standard of behavior set by me.”

Psaki said that while she was not excusing Ducklo’s behavior, the story he discussed with Palmeri was about his personal life and not an issue related to White House policy. Psaki said that she had not discussed Ducklo’s behavior with Biden directly but had addressed it with White House chief of staff Ron Klain.

When asked how female reporters outside of Politico were supposed to feel comfortable working with Ducklo when he returns, Psaki reiterated that Ducklo’s behavior was “completely unacceptable” and that she had been clear “this will never happen again and is not going to be tolerated here at the White House.”