Donald Trump 'pressured ambassador to move British Open to his resort'

Trump ‘pressured his ambassador Woody Johnson to ask the UK government to help move the British Open to his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland’ – despite ‘ban’ by tournament organizers

  • Trump reportedly tried to get the US ambassador to the UK to arrange for the British Open to be held at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland 
  • Ambassador Woody Johnson IV reportedly asked the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell, in 2018, after pressure from Trump 
  • It was after in 2017 a Scottish Open sponsor said: ‘Politics aside, Trump would be an ideal venue — but you can’t put politics aside’ 
  • Under the Constitution, a president is not allowed to benefit from gifts or profit from foreign governments
  • Experts on ethics say he may have profited from the government having to pay for security at the event 
  • Johnson’s deputy Lewis A. Lukens emailed colleagues about what had happened and says he was forced out of his deputy role a few months later in 2019
  • The British government told the Times in a statement that Johnson ‘made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event’ 
  • However the publication points out that the statement did not acknowledge whether Johnson mentioned Turnberry in his communications

 Donald Trump reportedly tried to get the US ambassador to the UK to arrange for the British Open to be held at his golf resort in Scotland, despite event organizers overlooking the venue since he became president.

 US ambassador Woody Johnson IV – who also owns the New York Jets – told multiple colleagues that the president had asked him in February 2018 to see if the British government would help secure his Trump Turnberry Resort as host for the tournament, according to the New York Times.

Three people which knowledge of the matter told the publication that despite the venue being eliminated as an option by organizers, and a warning from his deputy, Lewis A. Lukens, Johnson still felt pressured and asked the UK secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell. 

The lucrative event is run by the Royal and Ancient (R&A) Golf Association, who have given Trump’s course the cold shoulder since 2015 when he began his run for president.

Trump’s controversial rhetoric has seen the Trump course effectively blacklisted by the organization which governs world golf outside of North America. 

President Trump is pictured at Turnberry in June 2016. He reportedly tried to get the US ambassador to the UK to arrange for the British Open to be held at his golf resort in Scotland

Trump is pictured at his Trump International Golf Links course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on July 10, 2012. That club is said to be operating at a loss as well as Turnberry and one in Ireland


New York Jets owner Woody Johnson IV (left) reportedly asked the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell (right) about Turnberry hosting the British Open, after pressure from Trump

In 2018, R&A’s chief executive Martin Slumbers said: ‘We have criteria for which courses we want to go to, and part of that is macroeconomics. Clearly part of that macroeconomics is about politics.’

In 2017, Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Scottish Open sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management, told reporters that ‘politics aside, Trump would be an ideal venue — but you can’t put politics aside.’ 

The British government told the Times in a statement that Johnson ‘made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event.’ 

However the publication points out that the statement did not acknowledge whether Johnson mentioned Turnberry, which Trump took ownership of in 2014.

Lukens – who was the acting ambassador up until Johnson arrived in November 2017 – emailed colleagues about what had happened and says he was forced out of his deputy role a few months later. Lukens’ role ended in 2019.

Colleagues told the Times it was after he gave a speech at a British university which included a positive anecdote about Barack Obama’s 2013 trip to Senegal when Lukens was the envoy.

The White House, State Department and Johnson declined to comment about what Trump’s instructions were regarding Turnberry for the Times’ report on Tuesday.

Under the Constitution’s emoluments clause, a president is not allowed to benefit from gifts of profit from foreign governments.

It’s unclear how much of an influence the British government would have had on the tournament. 

The venue is selected by the R&A from a pool of 10 courses based on criteria such as readiness and public infrastructure.

‘We haven’t received any approaches from the British government or the Scottish government about this,’ R&A spokesperson, Mike Woodcock, said.

The British Open is not scheduled to be held at Turnberry for at least the next four years but the Times reports that if it were, the Scottish or British government would have had to pay for security at the event.

That would in turn result in Trump’s club getting profit from the event being held there, experts on government ethics said.

President Barack Obama’s special counsel for ethics, and later as his ambassador to the Czech Republic, said it is ‘diplomatic malpractice’ to ask for a favor like Johnson is reported to have done.

Johnson’s deputy Lewis A. Lukens emailed colleagues about what had happened and says he was forced out of his deputy role a few months later in 2019

‘Because once you do that, you put yourself in a compromised position,’ said Norman L. Eisen. ‘They can always say, “Remember that time when you made that suggestion.” No experienced diplomat would do that.’

Trump has been the subject of criticism when it comes to his hotels potentially profiting off his American leadership.

The Pentagon admitted it was sending troops to stay at Turnberry for overnight layovers when they landed in Glasgow.

Trump’s 16 golf courses are believed to generate a third of the family revenue. 

The Times reports that two courses in Scotland and one in Ireland are operating at a loss. After investing $150million on upgrading Turnberry, it lost $1million on $19million in sales in 2018.

Trump has also been criticized for encouraging Mike Pence to stay at his hotel in Doonbeg Ireland, last year, and choosing his Doral, Miami resort as the site of the G7 meeting that was ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition people in town on government business have been hosted at his Washington D.C. hotel.

The Times reports that some of the complaints were raised with the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General last fall, as part of a routine review of diplomatic operations at the embassy.

The findings submitted in February were expected to be included, according to one of the investigators however the report hasn’t been made public.

The State Department said Johnson has led the embassy ‘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 department said in a statement.

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