Jets owner, US Ambassador Woody Johnson investigated over British Open claims, alleged sexist, racist remarks

WABC logo
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Jets owner Woody Johnson at center of political, discrimination investigations
ABC News has confirmed that Jets owner and US Ambassador Woody Johnson told colleagues he was asked by the president if he could convince the UK government to hold the British Open.

NEW YORK -- ABC News has confirmed that billionaire New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, an ally to President Donald Trump and the American Ambassador to the U.K., told colleagues he was asked by the president if he could convince the UK government to hold its famed British Open golf tournament at Trump's golf course and resort in Turnberry, Scotland.

The efforts appeared to have failed.

Johnson's former deputy in the UK, Lew Lukens, confirmed to ABC's Katherine Faulders what was first reported in the New York Times, that he warned Johnson such an endeavor would be an unethical use of the presidency for private gain but that Johnson went ahead and did it anyway, raising the issue with the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell.

In a statement, the UK government denied those claims, saying "Mr. Johnson made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event."

A White House official told ABC News, "POTUS never spoke to Ambassador Johnson about this," while the White House declined to comment on the record.

Johnson also disputed the allegations.

Lukens, who went on to report the incident to colleagues, was summarily dismissed from his post.

ABC can also confirm that there is an open inspector general's investigation into the US embassy in the UK, although it's scope is unclear.

CNN reports that the investigation spans not only the allegations about Turnberry, but also that Johnson has made a series of racist and sexist comments while at his post.

CNN reports that Johnson "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, the CNN report offers a litany of sexist behaviors and comments attributed to Johnson, including accusations he hosted official gatherings at men's-only clubs, regularly commented on the appearance of women during public events, said that 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."

A State Department spokesman provided the following statement:

"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."

In a statement to his staff today 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."

Mike Woodcock, director of corporate communications for the R&A, which organizes the British Open, tells ABC News, "As I said to the NY Times, we didn't receive any approaches about this."