NYT: Trump Made Big Ask of US Ambassador on British Open

Sources: President pressured Woody Johnson to ask UK government to bring event to Turnberry
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 22, 2020 8:21 AM CDT
NYT : Trump Made Big Ask of US Ambassador on British Open
In this July 14, 2018, file photo, President Trump waves to protesters while playing golf at the Turnberry golf club in Scotland.   (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Robert Wood Johnson IV, the New York Jets owner and Trump donor with no diplomatic experience before being tapped as the US ambassador to Britain, was apparently just the person the president thought could handle a big job: Ask the British government if it could help get the British Open golf tourney onto Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland. That's what multiple sources tell the New York Times, which reports Johnson felt pressure to broach the subject with David Mundell, then Scotland's secretary of state. Lewis Lukens, Johnson's deputy, warned Johnson that making such an ask would be ethically unsavory, the sources say. A few months later, Johnson fired Lukens, after Lukens emailed State Department colleagues about the request. Mundell himself is staying tight-lipped, with a UK government statement noting Johnson "made no request of Mr. Mundell" on the Open.

Turnberry has long been losing money, despite the family pumping $150 million into it. The Times points out that although Trump as president isn't affected by a federal conflict-of-interest law, he has to adhere to the Constitution's emoluments ban on federal officials accepting gifts from foreign governments. Norm Eisen, who was President Obama's special counsel for ethics, says such a move by an ambassador would be "diplomatic malpractice." "Once you do that, you put yourself in a compromised position," he says. "No experienced diplomat would do that." The only word from the State Department comes via a statement: "We stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to him continuing to ensure our special relationship with the UK is strong." Meanwhile, the golf association that runs the British Open says it hasn't been approached by the UK or Scottish governments on this request. (More President Trump stories.)

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