kunc-header-1440x90.png
Our Story Happens Here
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

IG Report Calls For Further Investigation Into Comments By U.S. Ambassador To U.K.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Some of President Trump's ambassadors have been making headlines this summer, and not in a good way. An inspector general's report out this week called for a further investigation into Ambassador Woody Johnson's management of the embassy in London. Another Trump ambassador raised objections when he asked to carry a gun in Iceland, usually considered a very safe country. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Lew Lukens was a top career official at the U.S. embassy in London when New York Jets owner Woody Johnson became ambassador. A new inspector general's report found that the ambassador made inappropriate comments, which Lukens recalls this way.

LEW LUKENS: Inappropriate comments about women's looks and women in the workplace and some racially insensitive comments over the course of many, many months.

KELEMEN: Asked about Johnson, the State Department sent a statement saying the ambassador is a, quote, "valued member of the team who has led the embassy honorably and professionally." The inspector general calls for further investigation, though the department argued that's unnecessary since the ambassador watched a video on workplace harassment. Lukens says inspectors are still looking into other allegations against Johnson.

LUKENS: The ambassador came to me the morning after a visit to Washington where he had met the president. And he said, the president would like me to push the British Government to host the British Open at his golf course in Turnberry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I never spoke to Woody Johnson about doing that, no.

KELEMEN: Trump denies it, but Johnson raised this with British officials, according to Lukens, who has since left the foreign service.

LUKENS: I've worked with some excellent, excellent professional political ambassadors over the course of my career. But I will say that Donald Trump not only has a higher percentage of political ambassadors but has a higher percentage of ambassadors who don't seem to be temperamentally or intellectually suited for the work.

KELEMEN: There's a long tradition of presidents naming campaign donors as ambassadors that would likely continue whatever the outcome of November's election. Joe Biden's campaign is only promising that Biden is committed to filling diplomatic postings with qualified individuals. The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, says the Trump administration is doing the opposite.

BOB MENENDEZ: President Trump has sent his nominees to represent the American people abroad who have misled Congress, who have made offensive and racist statements, who resumes would not have even made it through a first round of vetting in any other administration.

KELEMEN: Democrats and Republicans are lining up against Trump's nominee to become ambassador to Germany because of isolationist views and rhetoric that the American Jewish Committee describes as incendiary. A congressional aide says lawmakers have wrestled with issues like this for years across administrations. Most other countries have career diplomats serving in key posts, as former ambassador Barbara Stephenson explains.

BARBARA STEPHENSON: America is an extreme outlier in sending inexperienced people abroad to serve as ambassadors.

KELEMEN: At U.S. embassies, the deputy chiefs of mission are drawn from the foreign service and help diplomatic newcomers adjust to the job. Lukens says many Trump appointees, though, don't trust career diplomats. The ambassador to France has gone through several deputies.

LUKENS: There's the case in South Africa where the ambassador wanted to make her son sort of a chief of staff at the embassy. And the DCM pushed back and said, you know, we have nepotism rules. You can't hire your son to work for you. She got rid of him.

KELEMEN: The dermatologist and political donor who became ambassador to Iceland has gone through numerous deputies, refusing one who spent six months learning Icelandic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER: (Speaking Icelandic).

KELEMEN: Ambassador Jeffrey Ross Gunter also made headline news in Iceland last month after CBS reported that he was so paranoid about his security, he wanted to carry a gun and hire private guards. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOGWAI'S "DONUTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.