British Government Says U.S. Ambassador Never Asked to Move British Open to Trump Golf Course

President Donald Trump walks as he plays a round of golf on the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry, the luxury golf resort southwest of Glasgow, Scotland on July 14, 2018. ANDY BUCHANAN/Getty Images
ANDY BUCHANAN/Getty Images

The New York Times published an anonymously sourced story on Tuesday accusing President Trump of asking the American ambassador to Britain to see if the British government could help him book the British Open golf tournament at the Trump golf course in Scotland. However, statements from both the British government and the golf association in charge of the tournament seem to contradict the story.

The Times claims that three unidentified sources “with knowledge of the episode” told them that U.S. ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, had told people that President Trump urged him to see if there was a way to get the British government to place the British Open at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland.

The Times notes, “The ambassador’s deputy, Lewis A. Lukens, advised him not to do it, warning that it would be an unethical use of the presidency for private gain, these people said. But Mr. Johnson apparently felt pressured to try. A few weeks later, he raised the idea of Turnberry playing host to the Open with the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell.”

However, the Times then adds that the British government officially denied the allegations and noted that Johnson “made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event.” The Times notes:

In a brief interview last week, Mr. Mundell said it was “inappropriate” for him to discuss his dealings with Mr. Johnson and referred to a British government statement that said Mr. Johnson “made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event.” The statement did not address whether the ambassador had broached the issue of Turnberry, which Mr. Trump bought in 2014, but none of the next four Opens are scheduled to be played there.

The Times then notes that this episode “deeply unsettled” Johnson’s deputy Lukens:

Still, the episode left Mr. Lukens and other diplomats deeply unsettled. Mr. Lukens, who served as the acting ambassador before Mr. Johnson arrived in November 2017, emailed officials at the State Department to tell them what had happened, colleagues said. A few months later, Mr. Johnson forced out Mr. Lukens, a career diplomat who had earlier served as ambassador to Senegal, shortly before his term was to end.

Though that sentence seems to imply that Lukens’ ouster was related to the British Open “episode,” over a dozen paragraphs later the article reveals that the ambassador had other reasons for wanting Lukens gone.

“The ambassador, colleagues said, forced out Mr. Lukens after hearing he gave a speech at a British university in which he told a positive anecdote about a visit Mr. Obama had made to Senegal in 2013, when Mr. Lukens was the envoy,” the Times stated.

The idea that the British government could request to have the golf tournament moved to Trump’s Turnberry resort is odd because the British government has no role at all in planning the British Open, which is run by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, known as the R&A.

Further, R&A told the Times that no one from either the U.S. or U.K. governments had ever mentioned to them the idea of moving the British Open to a Trump golf course.

Royal and Ancient Golf Club spokesman Mike Woodcock told the paper: “We haven’t received any approaches from the British government or the Scottish government about this.”

This statement by the R&A does not appear in the Times article until its very last line.

UPDATE: When asked at his Wednesday coronavirus press conference about speaking to Woody Johnson about moving the Open to Turnberry, President Trump denied it.

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