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Speaking to reporters from the White House briefing room on Friday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended her position of suspending Deputy Press Secretary TJ Duklo for only one week. This was in response to remarks that Duklo made to a Politico reporter that were deemed threatening.
"A deputy of your has been suspended for a week without pay," Kaitlan Collins asked, "for comments he made to a female reporter, bullying her after she reached out for request 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 replied by listing her own qualifications, saying "I take this very seriously. I am a woman obviously," and talking about her history of press relations in Washington, DC over the past 20 years, and said that the president "takes these allegations quite seriously."
"TJ Duklo," she said, "who is the deputy you're asking about, has apologized to the reporter," saying that he apologized shortly after the comments were made, and that the story he was commenting on was about his personal life. Psaki said that this did not excuse the comments, but that it was not an issue related to the White House, or anything "along those lines."
"This is not the standard of behavior set out by the president," she said, "nor is it the standard of behavior set by me, and I'm his direct supervisor."
Psaki said that in addition to apologizing, he sent the reporter a note "expressing his profound regret," and that he's been placed on a one-week, unpaid suspension, noting that this "is a significant step."
She also said that Duklo wouldn't be working with Politico reporters anymore. Psaki said that "no one wants anyone to feel uncomfortable or be put in an uncomfortable position."
This came after Duklo allegedly threatened a reporter over a story intended to publish indicating Duklo had colluded with another reporter.
"I will destroy you," Ducklo allegedly told Politico's Tara Palmeri, who was reporting on a story that included the fact that Ducklo is dating Alexi McCammond, a political reporter working for Axios. The confrontation started on Jan. 20, during the inauguration of President Biden.
Palmeri contacted McCammond for comment in the issue while one of her colleagues did the same with Ducklo, who then called a Politico editor with the intention to to quash the story. The editor referred him back to the individual reporters.
At that point, Ducklo called Palmeri instead of her colleague, and allegedly during this phone conversation he attempted to intimidate and threaten her by claiming he would ruin her reputation.
It should be noted that the reported romantic relationship between Ducklo and McCammond is considered to be in the public interest by law, as it could lead to a potential conflict of interest in McCammond's reporting.
The back-and-forth calls and emails continued over the next couple of days, even involving Ducklo's immediate superior, Jen Psaki, but at no point did Ducklo apologize to Palmeri, although he admitted that his actions were inappropriate.
Critics are very concerned, and are hoping that President Biden himself will possibly intervene, in the light of a previous statement of his:
"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."
This is a breaking story and will be updated.