Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says “the president has the unilateral right to choose who he wants to be, his inspector general.” (May 20)
WASHINGTON – The State Department’s top watchdog is investigating President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom over allegations he made sexist and racist comments and used his role to try to steer new business toward Trump’s golf course in Scotland, according to a senior State Department official.
The probe into the ambassador, Robert Wood Johnson IV, a billionaire who owns the New York Jets, is being finalized now, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Trump appointed Johnson to the coveted ambassadorship in 2017.
According to The New York Times, Johnson told colleagues in February 2018 that Trump had asked him to seek help from British government officials to get the British Open golf tournament hosted at the president’s Turnberry resort in Scotland. Johnson complied, asking the U.K.’s secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell, about the prospect of the tournament being hosted at Turnberry, according to the Times report.
The State Department official said that issue has been broken off from the review of Wood’s sexist and racist comments because it involves “serious wrongdoing.”
CNN first reported the accusations that Johnson had made racist and sexist remarks in his work as the ambassador. The network reported that he made generalizations about Black men and questioned why the Black community celebrates Black History Month.
The senior State Department official told USA TODAY that Johnson had banned employees from using the word “diversity” in his presence. “He makes fun of ethnic last names. He used familiar stereotypes about Jews, and when called on it, says he isn’t bigoted because ‘a Jew runs my company,'” the person said.
In a draft of the IG’s report on the sexist and racist comments – part of which was shared with USA TODAY – Johnson told investigators that he respected “both the law and the spirit” of equal employment principles. The draft report says he reviewed a video on workplace harassment and instructed his staff to do the same.
“Ambassador Johnson is well aware of his responsibility to set the right tone for his mission and we believe his actions demonstrate that,” reads the summary of Johnson’s response to the accusations.
In a statement, 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.”
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Mundell, the Scottish official whom Johnson reportedly sought out for help in securing the golf tournament.
This would not be the first time Trump has mixed official government actions with his private family businesses. Trump pushed to hold the G-7 Summit at his Doral resort in Miami before dropping the idea amid a backlash. And the president pressed Vice President Mike Pence to stay at Trump’s Ireland resort, even though Pence was there for meetings across the country in Dublin.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked Trump to fire the agency’s top watchdog, Steve Linick, on May 15. The inspector general’s office is now led by Stephen Akard, a political appointee who also serves as director of the agency’s Office of Foreign Missions.
Akard has no investigative or oversight experience, and he faces a slew of potential conflicts of interest, according to an internal State Department email, lawmakers and agency sources.
Contributing: William Cummings
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