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WATCH: Psaki Grilled By Reporters Over Aide Who Allegedly Threatened, Sexually Harassed Reporter
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 11: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House February 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. Psaki held a news briefing to answer questions from the members of the press.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was grilled during a news conference on Friday over a report that broke shortly beforehand that alleged that Deputy Press Secretary TJ Ducklo had sexually harassed and threatened a reporter who was getting ready to break a story about how he was dating a reporter who had previously been assigned to cover Joe Biden.

The story, first reported by Vanity Fair, alleges that Ducklo threatened Politico reporter Tara Palmeri after he learned that she was going to write a story about how he was dating Axios political reporter Alexi McCammond.

“Ducklo tried to intimidate Palmeri by phone in an effort to kill the story. ‘I will destroy you,’ Ducklo told her,” Vanity Fair reported. “During the off-the-record call, Ducklo made derogatory and misogynistic comments, accusing Palmeri of only reporting on his relationship—which, due to the ethics questions that factor into the relationship between a journalist and White House official, falls under the purview of her reporting beat—because she was ‘jealous’ that an unidentified man in the past had ‘wanted to f***’ McCammond ‘and not you.’ Ducklo also accused Palmeri of being ‘jealous’ of his relationship with McCammond.”

Psaki announced prior to the news conference that Ducklo had been suspended for one-week without pay and that he had reached out and offered an apology to Palmeri for his actions.

During the press conference, Psaki was eventually asked about the incident by several reporters:

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN REPORTER: A deputy of yours has been suspended for a week without pay for comments he made to a female reporter bullying her after she reached out for requests for comment on a story. Whose idea was the one week suspension instead of a potential resignation or firing? And how can you keep this person in a public facing press relations role dealing with female reporters when he made such sexist comments to this female reporter reaching out for a request for comment?

PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously, Caitlin, that 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, almost 20 years. And I think many of you know me, and have worked with me closely. And many of you know, many people in this building, including the President, who take these allegations quite seriously. TJ Ducklo, who is the deputy who you’re asking about, has apologized to the reporter, apologized to the reporter quite shortly after the comments were made. He had a heated conversation about a story related to his personal life. I’m not saying that’s acceptable. But I just want to be clear that it was not about an issue related to the White House or White House policy or anything along those lines. He’s the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President. Nor is that the standard of behavior set by me and I’m his direct supervisor. In addition to his initial apology, he sent the reporter a personal note expressing his profound regret. The ask, he has been placed, as you noted on a one week suspension without pay, that is a significant step. I’m not aware of a history of that step being taken, you all can check me on that. And in addition, when he returns, he will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico. I don’t, we don’t, want no one wants anyone to feel uncomfortable, to be put in an uncomfortable position. And that’s not behavior that we will tolerate. So those were the steps that were taken. And we felt it was a serious punishment.

COLLINS: But he’ll still be working with female reporters, and it wasn’t just a hostile conversation, I think we’ve all probably have plenty of those and vice versa. Those happen, but you know, the language that he is alleged to have used according to this report, it is arguably or even not arguably, sexist. So what are you doing to deal with that part of it?

PSAKI: It’s completely unacceptable. He knows that, we’ve had conversations with him about that. That is why we have also contacted up, not long before today, but immediately following their conversation, my colleague Kate Bedingfield reached out to an editor at playbook to convey our apology. We’ve reached out at every level there to convey our apology and been clear this will never happen again. And it is not going to be tolerated here at the White House.

REPORTER #2: …the president on inauguration day spoke to people that he was swearing in, new staff, and he said, ‘I promise I will find you on the spot, on the spot, no ifs, ands or buts, if they speak down to disrespect their colleagues.’ Now it’s not a colleague being questioned here, but isn’t this sort of well short of what he pledged on inauguration day?

PSAKI: As I’ve said Josh, it doesn’t meet our standard. It doesn’t meet the meet the president’s standard and it was important that we took a step to make that clear and that included not just an apology directly from him, and apologies from us at the highest levels there, but also a step to suspend him for one week without pay. And that in our view was it was an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable.

REPORTER #3: Was the President involved in this question at all? No, I have not discussed it with the president. It was a decision I made and with the approval of the chief of staff.

WEIJIA JIANG, REPORTER CBS NEWS: If you knew about this conversation for weeks, why wasn’t TJ suspended until after the article dropped? He was here up until last night.

PSAKI: You’re right. He, there were conversations that occurred with the reporter as well as editors at Politico immediately after the conversation occurred. That was how we engaged in a private manner. And, you know, that was that was what we felt was appropriate at the time.


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