United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Robert Wood Johnson attends the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 at Westminster Abbey on March 9, 2020 in London, England.
Mark Cuthbert | UK Press | Getty Images
President Donald Trump on Wednesday denied telling his ambassador to Great Britain, the New York Jets football team owner Woody Johnson, to speak to United Kingdom officials about possibly helping Trump’s Turnberry golf course in Scotland be chosen as a site for the British Open tournament.
“No. I never spoke to Woody Johnson about Turnberry,” Trump said at press conference, a day after The New York Times first reported that Johnson raised the issue with a British official at the president’s behest.
Trump added, “It is a highly respected course, one of the best in the world.”
“I read a story about it today. I never spoke to him about it.”
Johnson, who is also an heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, additionally is facing allegations that he reportedly has made racist and sexist comments while serving as Trump’s ambassador to the Court of St. James.
The comments and the golf course issues may have been the subject of an inquiry by the U.S. State Department’s internal ethics watchdog, who last October opened an inspection of the U.S. embassy in London.
The resulting report from the State Department’s inspector general was completed but marked classified as of May.
A former State Department official with first-hand knowledge told NBC News that Johnson informed multiple colleagues at the embassy that Trump asked him to find out if the British government would assist in efforts to have the British Open played at the president’s Turnberry course in Scotland.
The ex-official said that Johnson did so, despite his deputy twice warning him not to because such a request would be unethical. Johnson was a major donor to the president’s 2016 campaign before Trump appointed him ambassador.
The Scotland Office of the British government said in a statement Wednesday that at an introductory meeting Johnson had with the then-Secretary of State for Scotland in early 2018, “A number of issues were discussed, reflecting the close cultural and economic ties between Scotland and the USA.”
But, “Johnson made no request of [the official] regarding the British Open or any other sporting event,” the statement said.
CNN reported Wednesday that Johnson also had “made racist generalizations about Black men and questioned why the Black community celebrates Black History Month.”
The CNN article also detailed alleged comments by Johnson about the appearances of women, comments that were described as “cringeworthy.”
“He’s said some pretty sexist, racist” things, a diplomat was quoted by CNN as saying.
Black men account for about 70% of the players in the National Football League, which includes the Jets.
The Jets website reveals that there are about three times as many Black players as there are White players on the roster of the team, which has been run by Johnson’s brother, Christopher, since he has served as ambassador.
One of those Black Jets players, strong safety Jamal Adams, tweeted in response to CNN’s story: “We need the RIGHT people at the top. Wrong is wrong!”
“Right is right. Wrong is wrong! If u don’t think this is wrong you’re part of the problem not the solution,” wrote Adams, who has been demanding a trade from the team.
A State Department spokesman said, “We don’t have anything for you on a potential [Inspector General Office’s] inquiry.”
“Ambassador Johnson is a valued member of the team who has led Mission UK honorably and professionally,” the spokesman said.
“We stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to him continuing to ensure our special relationship with the UK is strong.”
Johnson, who did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment, sent out a mission-wide email after reports that the inspector general’s office had examined his alleged racist and sexist comments toward staff.
“I wanted to share with you what an honor it is for me to serve as U.S. Ambassador and, every bit as importantly, to lead the talented, diverse team at the U.S. Mission to the UK,” Johnson wrote Tuesday in the letter obtained by NBC News.
“Please know that I am absolutely committed to a workplace free of discrimination and in which each team member can thrive.”