‘I will destroy you’: WH deputy spox suspended after scandal breaks accusing him of intimidating female reporter

Deputy Press Secretary TJ Ducklo reportedly threatened to “destroy” a Politico reporter who was working on a story that would reveal a relationship the Biden administration aide has with another media figure, according to a report published Friday.

Vanity Fair reported that Ducklo, who works under Press Secretary Jen Psaki, tried to quash a story being written by Politico’s Tara Palmeri “by issuing threats and using derogatory language” about his alleged romantic relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammon, who covered then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign.

People revealed the relationship in a puff piece about the couple published on Monday, “but behind the scenes, Ducklo had previously lashed out at” Palmeri “exhibiting behavior that led to tense meetings between the Washington news outlet’s editors and senior White House officials,” Vanity Fair reported.

The White House responded Friday after the report was published.

“TJ Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life,” Psaki said in a statement. “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,” she added.

The drama began on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, when Palmeri reached out to McCammond for a comment as a male colleague from Politico tried contacting Ducklo, sources told Vanity Fair. 

Ducklo, who served as Biden’s campaign press secretary, then called an editor at Politico’s Playbook, of which Palmeri is a co-author, to voice concerns. Rather than contact the male reporter, however, Ducklo instead dialed Palmeri and attempted to intimidate her into dropping the story.

“I will destroy you,” he reportedly told her, sources told Vanity Fair, before adding that he would trash her reputation as well if she published her piece.

“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**k’ McCammond ‘and not you,’” Vanity Fair reported.

In addition, Ducklo reportedly accused the Politico correspondent of being “jealous” of his romance McCammond, though according to the entertainment outlet, Palmeri had never been in contact with McCammond before attempting to reach out for her story — which was assigned to her by editors, not chosen by Palmeri herself.

The day after, a Politico editor then contacted the White House regarding Ducklo’s purported threats, which led to several interactions between the outlet and senior officials including Psaki and White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, as well as Biden senior advisor Anita Dunn.

“In one of those calls, senior White House officials acknowledged that Ducklo’s handling of the call with Palmeri was inappropriate and said he would send a note to her apologizing for the comments,” noted Vanity Fair.

But the same White House officials also went on to cast aspersions at Palmeri, claiming she broke an off-the-record agreement with the deputy press secretary while also asking Politico why editors had not released the full contents of his call with the Playbook reporter.

Last month, Biden pledged he would fire any appointees if they mistreated a colleague, “no ifs, ands, or buts,” leading several people online to mock the one-week suspension.

“We have a new definition of slap on the wrist,” Nevada journalist Jon Ralston tweeted. “If what he said was reported accurately — and it is a secondary but interesting question about how an OTR convo got reported and when OTR can be breached —  Ducklo should have been fired. What he said was repellent and sexist.”

Others joined in as well.

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Jon Dougherty

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