President Donald Trump attempted to wield his political influence to get the prestigious British Open golf tournament hosted at his Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Trump in 2018 reportedly asked the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, to see “if the British government could help steer” the televised event to the money-losing course bought by The Trump Organization in 2014, according to the newspaper, which cited three unnamed sources.
Johnson reportedly ignored ethics concerns raised by his then-deputy, Lewis Lukens, and floated the idea with the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell, per the Times. Lukens later reportedly flagged the request with State Department officials. He was later forced out of his role at the U.S. embassy in London after telling a positive anecdote about former President Barack Obama during a speech, reported the Times.
Mundell declined to comment on his dealings with Johnson, according to the Times. He referred the paper to a British government statement that said Johnson “made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event.”
Mike Woodcock, a spokesperson for the R&A golf association that runs the tournament, said he had not “received any approaches from the British government or the Scottish government” about moving the event to Trump’s resort.
Johnson, the White House and the State Department all declined to comment to the Times.
The 2020 British Open was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, as president, is exempt from U.S. conflict of interest laws. Still, his request may have violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause banning federal officeholders from receiving payments from foreign governments because the security bill would likely have been footed by the British government, the Times reported.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington watchdog group, tweeted it was “hard to think of a better example of using the presidency for personal gain in ways that could affect international relations.”
Our ambassador, at President Trump's urging, reportedly asked the British government to steer the British Open to Trump's club. Hard to think of a better example of using the presidency for personal gain in ways that could affect international relations.https://t.co/JHTVS9a8du
— Noah Bookbinder (@NoahBookbinder) July 21, 2020
Walter Shaub, the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, also expressed dismay:
. . . because, after all, what's an Ambassadorship for, if not for misusing your position to ask a foreign government to give your boss an unconstitutional emolument or two? https://t.co/XFhUPRGzDx
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 22, 2020
Trump last year tried to steer a meeting of G-7 world leaders to his Doral resort in Florida, but backed off after an outcry. The summit was later canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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