The US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, was reportedly investigated by a state department watchdog over alleged racist and sexist comments to staff and for allegedly trying to use his position to advance Donald Trump’s business interests.
The outcome of an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has not yet been published, and the former inspector general Steve Linick was fired in May.
Johnson, a billionaire Trump supporter, is reported by CNN to have become agitated before a Black History Month event in 2018, asking aides if the audience would be “a whole bunch of black people”.
Johnson is said to have questioned why there needed to be a Black History Month, claiming that the “real challenge” was that black fathers did not stay with their families.
The ambassador is also reported to have hosted official events at the men-only White’s club in London, from which female embassy staff were excluded. He allegedly resisted holding an event on gender-based violence, telling staff he was not interested because he was “not a woman”.
The New York Times and CNN reported that, at the president’s request, the ambassador lobbied the UK’s secretary of state for Scotland at the time, David Mundell, for the British Open golf tournament to be held at the Trump-owned Turnberry course.
But Johnson said that the accusations were false. He tweeted: “These false claims of insensitive remarks about race and gender are totally inconsistent with my longstanding record and values.”
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 (@USAmbUK) July 22, 2020
The UK government denied that Johnson had raised the issue with Mundell in their introductory meeting. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which organises the tournament, said Turnberry remained in the pool of possible courses to host the tournament. However, none of the next four Opens will be played at the Ayrshire course.
Some of the allegations are reported to have been raised with the OIG, a traditionally independent watchdog body. That independence was called into question when Linick was fired by the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, at a time when his office was looking into complaints that Pompeo had abused his office for personal advantage.
Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California, called for Johnson to resign if the allegations against him were confirmed.
“There is no place for racism, sexism or corruption in our [state department],” Lieu said on Twitter, calling on the House foreign affairs committee to look into whether the OIG investigation of Johnson was a contributing cause in Linick’s dismissal.
A state department spokesperson said: “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.”