WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Wednesday that he never spoke with his ambassador to Britain about asking the British government if it could help steer the world-famous British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland.
The ambassador, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that he had been asked to see if he could arrange for the tournament to be played at Mr. Trump’s property and was warned not to do so by his deputy because it would be an unethical use of the presidency for private gain, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Mr. Johnson apparently felt pressured to try anyway, and a few weeks later he raised the idea of Turnberry hosting the Open with the secretary of state for Scotland, The Times reported. The episode left several American diplomats unsettled, and the ambassador’s deputy, Lewis A. Lukens, sent emails describing what had happened to State Department colleagues. Mr. Johnson later forced out Mr. Lukens.
Asked about the report at a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Trump denied speaking with Mr. Johnson on the matter, although he managed to promote his Scotland golf course at the same time.
“No, I never spoke to Woody Johnson about that, about Turnberry,” Mr. Trump said. “Turnberry’s a highly respected course, as you know, one of the best in the world. I read a story about it today, and I never spoke to Woody Johnson about doing that, no.”
The White House, the State Department and Mr. Johnson’s embassy were asked for comment before the article was published, and all declined to directly address the matter. In a Twitter posting on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson did not deny the episode but said only that he did not violate any regulations. “I have followed the ethical rules and requirements of my office at all times,” he wrote.
Mr. Johnson, the billionaire heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune and the owner of the New York Jets, told multiple people about the matter.
Mr. Lukens confirmed on Wednesday that Mr. Johnson had informed him about Mr. Trump’s request. “I advised him that doing so would violate federal ethics rules and be generally inappropriate,” Mr. Lukens wrote in a text message to NPR.