State Department rejects further probe of diplomat’s remarks

National News

FILE – In this March 9, 2020, file photo United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Woody Johnson arrives to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London. A report released Wednesday, Aug. 12, by the State Department’s internal watchdog confirms reports that New York Jets owner Woody Johnson was accused of making “insensitive” and “inappropriate” remarks to staff as U.S. ambassador to Britain. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A report Wednesday by the State Department’s internal watchdog confirms news accounts that staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Britain have accused Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and the U.S. ambassador, of making “insensitive” and “inappropriate” remarks.

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

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

While the Office of the Inspector General said it continues to believe the State Department should further examine Johnson’s alleged conduct, the State Department said it considers the matter closed.

“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.

The report provides no details about the alleged comments by 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 color.”

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

One former embassy employee said Johnson’s questionable behavior and comments toward and about women and minorities were not isolated and were witnessed by numerous staffers on a weekly, if not daily, basis. That former employee and the other officials were not authorized to discuss the ongoing inspector general report and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The current and former officials said Johnson had questioned the need for events marking Black History Month, which is traditionally commemorated by U.S. 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 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 Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland.

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

Johnson told the inspector general investigators that he has throughout his professional life “respected both the law and the spirit” of the principles in the department’s equal employment opportunity regulations and has ensured that all employees working for him do as well. He said he reviewed a video on workplace conduct after learning of the allegations against him.

The ambassador said the OIG should consider not including the recommendations related to the alleged remarks in their 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.

Johnson, who was confirmed to the ambassador post in August 2017, raised money for Trump’s presidential campaign and donated $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee. He is chair and CEO of The Johnson Co., a private asset management firm in New York and has owned the Jets football team since 2000.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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