By KATHERINE FAULDERS and CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Billionaire NFL owner and U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson told colleagues he was asked by President Donald Trump if he could persuade the U.K. government to hold the famed and lucrative British Open golf tournament at Trump’s golf course and resort in Turnberry, Scotland, ABC News confirmed Wednesday.
The British tournament never ended up at Trump Turnberry.
Johnson’s former deputy in the U.K., Lew Lukens, confirmed an account first reported in the New York Times: that he warned Johnson, a Trump ally, that such an endeavor would be an unethical use of the presidency for private gain, but that Johnson went ahead anyway, raising the issue with the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell.
In a statement, the U.K. government denied those claims, saying “Mr. Johnson made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event.”
Asked at an afternoon White House briefing Wednesday when he had “asked Ambassador Woody Johnson to bring the British Open to your Turnberry property in Scotland?” Trump answered, “No, I never spoke to Woody Johnson about that, about Turnberry. Turnberry is a highly respected course, as you know, one of the best in the world, and I read a story about it today … I never spoke to Woody Johnson about doing that, no.”
Trump nominated Johnson, owner of the New York Jets football franchise, as ambassador in 2017.
Lukens, who said he went on to report the incident to colleagues, was summarily dismissed from his post.
Mike Woodcock, director of corporate communications for The R&A, which organizes the British Open, told ABC News in a statement: “As I said to the NY Times, we didn’t receive any approaches about this.”
ABC also confirmed there is a current inspector general investigation into the U.S. embassy in the U.K., although the scope of that investigation is unclear.
At the same time, CNN reported that the investigation spans not only the allegations about Johnson and Trump Turnberry, but also complaints that Johnson made a series of racist and sexist comments while ambassador.
CNN said the complaints being investigated included allegations Johnson in London, around the time U.S embassies were making plans to mark Black History Month, “made racist generalizations about Black men and questioned why the Black community celebrates Black History Month,” adding… “Johnson appeared agitated and asked if the audience would be “a whole bunch of Black people,” according to one source.
In addition, CNN cited sources as saying Johnson made sexist remarks and exhibited sexist behavior, including accusations he hosted official gatherings at a men-only club in London, regularly commented on the appearance of women during public events, said he preferred to work with women because they are cheaper and work harder than men, and once questioned why he had to participate in “a feminist event.”
CNN said, when asked about the specific allegations, Johnson did not deny them.
But Wednesday afternoon, he tweeted, “I have followed the ethical rules and requirements of my office at all times. These false claims of insensitive remarks about race and gender are totally inconsistent with my longstanding record and values.”
“Ambassador Johnson is a valued member of the team who has led Mission UK honorably and professionally. We stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to him continuing to ensure our special relationship with the UK is strong,” a State Deparment spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.
In a statement to his staff Wednesday, obtained by ABC News, Johnson wrote in part, “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… Please know that I am absolutely committed to a workplace free of discrimination and in which each team member can thrive.”
ABC News’ Cindy Smith, Justin Fishel, Kirit Radia, Mike Trew, Pete Madden and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.
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