White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that one of her deputies, TJ Ducklo, had been suspended for one week without pay after a Vanity Fair story revealed Ducklo had threatened a reporter who was working on a story about his romantic relationship with another reporter.
“This in our view was an important step to send the message that we don’t find this acceptable,” Psaki told reporters at the White House press briefing.
Psaki said her deputy, TJ Ducklo, had apologized to the reporter, Politico’s Tara Palmeri, over the incident. She added that when he returns from suspension he will no longer work with any reporters at Politico.
Palmeri reported on Tuesday that Ducklo had been in a romantic relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond. Axios told Politico that McCammond “disclosed her relationship” with Ducklo in November and was “taken off the Biden beat.” But Palmeri pointed out that McCammond’s beat includes covering Vice President Kamala Harris and that she had commented glowingly on Biden after he was inaugurated.
A Vanity Fair story published Friday said that Ducklo had threatened Palmeri over her piece, vowing he would “destroy her” if she published it. Ducklo, according to the Vanity Fair story, also made misogynistic comments to Palmeri. The magazine reported Ducklo referenced Palmeri’s own personal life, accusing her at one point of being “jealous” about his relationship with McCammond.
A person familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN the details of the conversation Ducklo had with Palmeri. Ducklo did not respond to a request for comment Friday and Palmeri declined to comment.
Psaki said that in addition to his initial apology, Ducklo had expressed “profound regret” in a note to Palmeri after the incident, which Psaki described only as a “heated conversation about his personal life.”
The note from Ducklo, which was obtained by CNN, said, “Last night on the phone with you I lost my temper in a way that was unprofessional, and I apologize for that. I should have done a better job at keeping my emotions in check during our conversation. It won’t happen again.”
When asked at the press briefing how Ducklo could continue to work with female reporters, given the misogynistic nature of some of his comments, Psaki agreed they were “completely unacceptable” and said that she has had “conversations with him about that.”
Psaki said that the White House apologized to Politico and vowed that “this will never happen again.”
It was not clear why Ducklo had only been suspended on Friday when the Vanity Fair story published, given that Psaki and the White House had been aware of Ducklo’s conduct in the weeks before.
Psaki, who was also asked about that at the press briefing, said that the White House had conversations with Politico editors immediately after the incident.
“That was how we engaged, in a private manner,” Psaki said. “And that was what we felt was appropriate at the time.”
The one-week suspension also appeared to fall well short of President Joe Biden’s promise to fire employees on the spot if they were found to disrespect others.
Psaki said she had not discussed the matter with Biden, but had consulted with the White House chief of staff. She said the suspension was in their view “an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable.”
Politico reporters were outraged at Psaki’s response to the situation, two staffers at the outlet told CNN.
“It feels like she is punishing us more than him,” one of the staffers said, noting that her solution is for Politico reporters to lose access to one of the highest ranking officials in the White House communications department.
In a statement, Politico Editor-In-Chief Matt Kaminski and Editor Carrie Budoff Brown acknowledged raising concerns with the White House about Ducklo’s behavior.
“No journalist at Politico —or any other publication or network — should ever be subjected to such unfounded personal attacks while doing their job,” they said. “Politico reporters and editors are committed to forging a professional and transparent relationship with public office holders and their staff and expect the same in return.”