On Tuesday a report from the New York Times alleged President Donald Trump asked Woody Johnson, New York Jets co-owner and American ambassador to the United Kingdom, to help steer the British Open to Trump Turnberry in Scotland.
It didn’t take long for President Trump to refute the story, saying the following on Wednesday during an afternoon White House briefing: “No, I never spoke to Woody Johnson about that, about Turnberry. Turnberry is a highly respected course, as you know, one of the best in the world, and I read a story about it today … I never spoke to Woody Johnson about doing that, no.”
Johnson, a co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson empire, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that Trump asked if the British government could help direct the Open to Turnberry.
The story insisted that Lewis Lukens, a deputy to Johnson, advised against any interference, saying the move would violate ethics policies. Yet Johnson did so anyway, asking the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell, if he could help.
According to the report by the Times, Mundell said it was inappropriate to go into detail about his discussions with Johnson, but Lukens was apparently so concerned about the issue that he emailed officials at the State Department to tell them. Lukens was relieved of his duties a few months later.
The U.K. government said in a statement: “Mr. Johnson made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event.”
Turnberry was listed as a possible site when discussions arose in 2018, but then-R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers seemed to suggest the four-time Open Championship course was never a viable option as an upcoming venue with Trump sitting in the White House.
“We have criteria for which courses we want to go to, and part of that is macroeconomics,” Slumber said. “Clearly part of that macroeconomics is about politics.”
Contributing: Tim Schmitt