United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Robert Wood Johnson, is attending the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 at Westminster Abbey, London, on March 9, 2020.
Mark Cuthbert | UK Press | Getty Images
President Donald Trump denied on Wednesday to his Ambassador to the UK, New York Jets football team owner Woody Johnson, that he should speak to UK officials about whether he could host Trump's Turnberry golf course in Scotland selected the British Open tournament.
"No. I never spoke to Woody Johnson about Turnberry," Trump said at a press conference the day after the New York Times first reported that Johnson had raised the issue at the behest of the President with a British official.
Trump added, "It's a highly regarded 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 a heir to Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical fortune, also faces allegations that he made racist and sexist comments when he was Trump's ambassador to the Court of St. James.
The comments and problems with the golf course may have been the subject of an investigation by the State Department's internal ethics watchdog, which opened an inspection by the U.S. embassy in London last October.
The resulting report by the Inspector General of the State Department was completed, but marked as classified from May.
A former U.S. State Department official with first-hand knowledge said to NBC News that Johnson had informed several colleagues at the embassy that Trump had asked him to find out whether the British government was trying to attend the British Open on The President’s Turnberry course in Scotland will be helpful.
The ex-official said Johnson did so even though his deputy had warned him twice because such a request would be unethical. Johnson was a key donor to the President's 2016 campaign before Trump appointed him ambassador.
The UK government's Scottish office said in a statement on Wednesday that Johnson was at an introductory meeting with the then Scottish Secretary of State in early 2018 "a series of issues that reflected the United States' close cultural and economic ties between Scotland and Scotland."
"However, Johnson has not made a request to [the official] about the British Open or any other sporting event," the statement said.
CNN reported on Wednesday that Johnson had also "made racist generalizations about black men and questioned why the black community is celebrating Black History Month."
The CNN article also included alleged Johnson comments on the appearance of women that were described as "worthy".
"He said some pretty sexist, racist things," CNN quoted a diplomat.
Black men make up about 70% of the players in the National Football League, which also includes the Jets.
The Jets website shows that about three times as many black players as white players have been on the list of the team led by Johnson's brother Christopher since serving as ambassador.
One of these Black Jets players, 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 you don't think this is wrong, you're part of the problem, not the solution," wrote Adams, who asked the team to trade.
A spokesman for the State Department said, "We have nothing for you regarding a possible investigation [Inspector General Office]."
"Ambassador Johnson is a valued member of the team that has led Mission UK with honor and professionalism," said the spokesman.
"We stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to continuing to ensure that our special relationship with Britain is strong."
Johnson, who did not respond to NBC News' requests for comments, sent a mission-wide email after reports that the Inspector General's Office had reviewed his alleged racist and sexist comments to employees.
"I wanted to share with you what an honor it is to be US Ambassador and, just as important, to lead the talented, diverse team of the US Mission in the UK," Johnson wrote in Tuesday's letter from NBC News.
"Please know that I am absolutely committed to a non-discriminatory workplace where every team member can thrive."