White House aide suspended for threatening reporter

White House deputy press secretary T.J. Ducklo has been suspended for a week without pay after he reportedly issued a sexist and profane threat to a journalist seeking to cover his relationship with another reporter.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Ducklo’s conduct was “completely unacceptable.” Psaki said while she had not spoken about the incident with President Joe Biden, Ducklo and aides “at the highest levels” of the White House’s communications team had apologized for the incident.

“No one wants anyone to feel uncomfortable, to be put in an uncomfortable position,” Psaki said.

Psaki said in a statement earlier Friday that Ducklo had been suspended without pay with the approval of White House chief of staff Ron Klain. She said Ducklo “is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out” by Biden, and that Ducklo had sent the reporter in question “a personal note professing his profound regret.”

Ducklo’s personal life came under scrutiny earlier this week when Politico reported on his relationship with a reporter for the news outlet Axios who was assigned to cover the Biden campaign and its transition. Before Politico broke the story Tuesday, People Magazine published a glowing profile of the relationship. It was the first time either one had publicly acknowledged the relationship.

On Friday, Vanity Fair published a report citing two unnamed sources that Ducklo had threatened the Politico reporter to try to suppress the story, telling her “I will destroy you.”

Psaki, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield and Anita Dunn, director of West Wing operations, were all reportedly involved in conversations with Politico editors about the incident. Psaki said that when Ducklo returns, he won’t be assigned to work with any Politico reporters.

President Donald Trump’s White House was known for an adversarial relationship with reporters, and both Trump himself and his lead spokespeople would frequently pick fights with and lob personal attacks at reporters from behind the podium. But the Biden White House sought to strike a more cordial and professional tone with the Washington press corps from the start, installing a cadre of seasoned Washington communicators led by Psaki.

On her first day behind the podium, Psaki told reporters, “I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role all of you play.”

“There will be moments when we disagree,” Psaki added, “but we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”

Biden offered his own standard for the conduct he expects from his staff in comments he made during a virtual swearing-in with staff the day he was sworn in.

“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,” he said that day. “No ifs, ands or buts.”

Confronted with those comments from the president, Psaki reiterated that Ducklo’s conduct “doesn’t meet our standards, it doesn’t meet the president’s standard, and it was important that we took a step to make that clear.”

The apologies offered by her team, along with Ducklo’s weeklong suspension, were “an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable,” Psaki added.

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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky.

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