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A White House official threatened Politico reporter Tara Palmeri after she pursued a story on the official’s relationship with a different reporter at Axios, Vanity Fair revealed on Friday.
Palmeri reached out to Axios reporter Alexi McCammond on January 20 to ask for comment on McCammond’s relationship with incoming Deputy Press Secretary TJ Ducklo. A male Politico reporter reached out to Ducklo for comment, but Ducklo subsequently called Palmeri and, in an off-the-record conversation, threatened to ruin her reputation if the story was published.
“I will destroy you,” Ducklo told Palmeri, sources familiar with the incident reported to Vanity Fair. Ducklo then accused Palmeri of being “jealous” that an unidentified man “wanted to f***” McCammond “and not you,” and also alleged that Palmeri was “jealous” of his own relationship with McCammond.
The altercation sparked conversations between senior Politico staff and White House officials, including Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, and adviser Anita Dunn. Senior White House officials acknowledged that Ducklo’s behavior was inappropriate, but also accused Palmeri of breaking her agreement with Ducklo to speak off the record. Ducklo sent Palmeri a general apology for losing his temper.
Psaki announced on Friday, several hours after the Vanity Fair story broke, that Ducklo would be suspended without pay for one week.
“In addition to his initial apology, [Ducklo] has sent [Palmeri] a personal note expressing his profound regret,” Psaki said in a statement. “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.”
On January 21, one day after Ducklo’s altercation with Palmeri, President Biden told political appointees at a virtual swearing-in ceremony, “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. No ifs, ands or buts.”
Ducklo’s and McCammond’s relationship was profiled in People magazine earlier this week. The People story dropped hours after Politico reached out to the White House for comment on the relationship — a chain of events that was subsequently noted in Politico‘s Playbook.
The Biden administration has promised a change from the Trump administration’s frequently adversarial relationship with the media. Various reporters expressed disappointment after publication of the report on Ducklo’s comments.
“I’ve taken a lot of flak from Donald Trump and his underlings for my reporting: legal threats, name-calling, physical removal from campaign events. I don’t recall personally encountering anything quite so vicious as the phone call described here,” Politico national correspondent Ben Schreckinger commented on Twitter.