US ambassador Woody Johnson made inappropriate remarks, says watchdog

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The US State Department’s internal watchdog has confirmed news accounts that staff at the US Embassy in the UK have accused US ambassador Woody Johnson of making “insensitive” and “inappropriate” remarks.

The department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) called for further investigation into the allegations against Mr Johnson, a friend and campaign contributor to US President Donald Trump.

Mr Johnson denies the allegations. State Department officials replied to the watchdog office that no further investigation is necessary because Mr Johnson is “well aware of his responsibility to set the right tone for his mission”, according to the report.

US President Donald Trump
Mr Johnson is a friend and donor to US President Donald Trump (Niall Carson/PA)

“We stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to him continuing to ensure our special relationship with the UK is strong,” it said in a written response to a request for comment on the report.

A report by the watchdog provides no details about the alleged comments by Mr Johnson, which officials learned about during a periodic review of the embassy.

It said that employees alleged that the ambassador “sometimes made inappropriate or insensitive comments on topics generally considered Equal Employment Opportunity sensitive, such as religion, sex, or colour”.

Two current US officials told The Associated Press in July that they had witnessed or were aware of behaviour by Mr Johnson that colleagues had found to be bullying or demeaning.

One former embassy employee said Mr Johnson’s questionable behaviour and comments towards and about women and minorities were not isolated and were witnessed by numerous staff members on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

I do not accept that I have treated employees with disrespect or discriminated in any way

The current and former officials said Mr Johnson had questioned the need for events marking Black History Month, which is traditionally commemorated by US diplomatic missions abroad, had hosted embassy events at a private men-only London club against the advice of embassy colleagues, and made disparaging remarks about women’s appearances.

Those allegations emerged as Mr Johnson’s former deputy at the embassy alleged the ambassador had also tried to intervene with British government officials at the president’s request to steer the British Open golf tournament to Mr Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland.

The investigation report does not address the allegation related to the British Open, which Mr Trump and Mr Johnson have denied.

Mr Trump at his Turnberry resort in South Ayrshire
Mr Trump at his Turnberry resort in South Ayrshire (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The ambassador said the OIG should consider not including the recommendations related to the alleged remarks in its findings, citing the lack of any formal complaints against him and the “generally positive tone” of the broader review of embassy operations, according to the report.

“If I have unintentionally offended anyone in the execution of my duties, I deeply regret that, but I do not accept that I have treated employees with disrespect or discriminated in any way,” he said.

Mr Johnson, who was confirmed to the ambassador post in August 2017, raised money for Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and donated 1 million dollars to the president’s inaugural committee.

He is chairman and CEO of The Johnson Co, a private asset management firm in New York and has owned the New York Jets NFL team since 2000.

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