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Commonwealth Day Service 2020

Source: Samir Hussein / Getty

A billionaire NFL owner faces an investigation from the State Department inspector general after he allegedly made racist and sexist comments to his staff. Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, who serves as Donald Trump‘s ambassador to the United Kingdom, is also accused of using his government position to benefit Trump’s personal business in the UK, according to CNN sources.

Three sources and a diplomat familiar with the complaints to the State Department inspector general told CNN about Johnson’s alleged action. According to them, he made a racist generalization about Black men and questioned why Black people celebrate Black History Month. He allegedly made the remarks at a 2018 event for Black History Month, which is often commemorated at U.S. embassies around the world.

According to one CNN source, Johnson “appeared agitated and asked if the audience would be ‘a whole bunch of Black people.'” Three sources also said that Johnson questioned why the Black community would want a separate month to commemorate Black history. He argued that Black fathers didn’t stay with their families and that was the “real challenge,” according to the sources. One source explained that an official who heard his comments was “stunned” and that the situation was documented and made known to both the Office of Inspector General and a supervisor. 

Sources familiar with Johnson’s meetings also detailed instances of sexism to CNN. They said that Johnson hosted official gatherings at a posh men’s-only club in London and eventually Johnson was told by another diplomat at the embassy in 2018 that he had to cease holding these meetings where women were unable to attend. Three sources said that whenever Johnson talked about women, it was in offensive or demeaning ways.

Two sources said that the ambassador suggested that he preferred working with women, but he indicated that was “because women were cheaper and worked harder than men.” One source also said at certain public events, Johnson would begin his remarks with quips about the many pretty women that were present, reducing them to decorative objects in a fashion that a source labeled “just sort of cringeworthy.” 

Sources told CNN that it was challenging to get Johnson involved with an event for International Women’s Day, which is also commemorated at embassies worldwide. One source said he questioned why he had to do “a feminist event.” The event was still held despite his alleged comments. A source said a team at the embassy also tried to get Johnson on board for an event on gender-based violence in November 2017. However, the ambassador responded by saying he’s not interested because he’s “not a woman,” according to the source.

Johnson is the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune and he’s one of the owners of the New York Jets. When questioned by CNN about the specific allegations, Johnson didn’t deny them. He went on to say it was an “honor of a lifetime” to serve as ambassador and “to lead the talented, diverse team of the U.S. Mission to the United Kingdom.” 

The White House had no comment when contacted about the allegations against Johnson. Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson called Johnson “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 spokesperson continued. 

Johnson is also under investigation after he was allegedly asked by Trump to have the Open — the prestigious British golf championship — held at one of Trump’s golf properties, according to two sources. CNN explains:

“A UK government spokesperson disputes that Johnson raised the matter in a meeting with a British official recounted by a source. Notably, any decision about the location of the tournament would not be made by a politician. However, that alleged effort on behalf of the President’s family business is a focus of the yet-to-be released report from the Office of the Inspector General, sources said.”

State Department investigators started reviewing the embassy and its leader in the fall of 2019, according to CNN sources. The Office of Inspector General reports are generally reviewed by the State Department before being finalized and released. However, State Department inspector general Steve Linick was fired in mid-May 2020. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the one to attend meetings this past Tuesday, according to CNN, and he attended a dinner hosted by Johnson on Tuesday night.

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