The New York Times reports, citing “three people with knowledge of the situation,” that American ambassador to the United Kingdom Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV told multiple colleagues that President Donald J. Trump had instructed him to ask the British government to push for the British Open golf tournament to be held at Trump Turnberry Resort in Scotland.
- These three people told the Times that Johnson’s deputy ambassador, career diplomat Lewis A. Lukens, advised against doing so and warned that it would be unethical.
- Even so, Johnson apparently felt pressured to try, and he allegedly raised the idea of Turnberry hosting the Open while speaking with Scotland’s secretary of state, David Mundell.
- The Times explained that the episode left Lukens and other members of the diplomatic staff unsettled. Lukens emailed the State Department to inform them of what had happened.
- A few months later, the three people familiar with the situation say that Johnson dismissed Lukens from his post ahead of the anticipated end of Lukens’s term for an unrelated incident: in a public address, Lukens had spoken positively of former President Barack Obama’s 2013 visit to Senegal, where Lukens was an envoy at the time.
- The White House, Johnson, and the State Department all declined to comment on Trump’s alleged instructions to Johnson.
- In an interview, Mundell said it would be “inappropriate” to talk about any discussions he had with Johnson. Instead, he pointed to an official British government statement that claimed Johnson “made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event” without addressing whether Johnson had simply broached the idea.
- Nevertheless, none of the next four British Opens are scheduled to be held at Trump Turnberry Resort.
- Although presidents are exempt from a legislative federal conflict of interest law, the Constitution prohibits all federal officials from accepting gifts, or “emoluments,” from foreign nations.
- Government ethics experts suggested to the Times that a British Open at Trump Turnberry would likely require the United Kingdom to pay for local event security. This would profit Trump and could constitute an emolument.
Additionally, this is not the first time Trump has steered business toward one of his properties.
- In 2019, Trump urged Vice President Mike Pence to stay in a Trump resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, during a vice presidential visit to the country even though Pence’s official business was taking place on the other side of the country.
- Also in 2019, the White House chose the Trump National Doral resort in Miami, Florida as the site of the 2020 Group of Seven meeting after Trump offhandedly proposed the idea to reporters during the 2019 summit.
- The United States eventually relocated the summit to Camp David after what the Times calls a “political firestorm” ensued, and the COVID-19 pandemic has warranted the summit’s complete cancellation.
- The Times notes that Trump’s Scotland and Ireland golf resorts have been losing money, and the family has “struggled for more than a decade to attract professional golf tournaments” to their sixteen golf resorts broadly.
The Times also explains that “Beyond the legal and ethical red flags, asking for such a favor” as using a Trump property for the British Open “from his host country would put Mr. Johnson in an untenable position as the emissary of the United States.”
Norman L. Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s special counsel for ethics and later as his ambassador to the Czech Republic, told the Times, “It is diplomatic malpractice because once you do that, you put yourself in a compromised position.”
“They can always say, ‘Remember that time when you made that suggestion.’ No experienced diplomat would do that,” he said.