Donald Trump has reportedly tapped New York Jets owner Woody Johnson as the next ambassador to the United Kingdom, breaking a campaign promise not to appoint political donors to negotiate with other countries.
A Trump transition official confirmed the news of Johnson’s appointment to NBC News. Trump said a guest at a luncheon was “sitting next to the ambassador Woody Johnson, going to Saint James,” according to the NBC report.
In August of 2015 at a campaign event in Greenville, SC, Trump promised that he will have great negotiators for diplomats, not “nice people that got there because they gave political contributions.” He specifically criticized the Obama administration’s appointment of Caroline Kennedy, a Democratic donor, to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan:
Carl Icahn’s one of the best. If I put Carl in charge of Japan, “Carl, handle Japan trade deals.” It’s over, just walk away let him run the- oh forget it. They even know that they don’t have a chance. Okay? It’s over. You understand. Not Caroline Kennedy, I love her, but not Caroline. .. I want the great negotiators negotiating our deals, I don’t want these nice people that got there because they gave political contributions.
Trump might say that Johnson has experience in sports and business, while Kennedy is just a “nice” person, but this would ignore her experience in law, publishing, philanthropy, education, and charity.
Hiring political donors to be ambassadors is something many other presidents have done; President Obama picked Dan Rooney, the owner of the Steelers and campaign contributor, as ambassador to Ireland. Trump, however, criticized Obama for a pick like Kennedy and said he would not follow suit. Johnson is a major Trump donor.
Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, owner of the New York Jets and chairman of a private investment firm in New York City endorsed Trump in May of last year. The RNC then announced Johnson was both a Trump Victory Vice Chair nationwide and a State Victory Finance Chair in New York.
Johnson himself contributed $100,000 to the Victory Fund in late June. A few weeks later, he hosted a fundraising event at his East Hampton estate, with tickets going for $10,000 and $25,000 apiece — one of at least six fundraising events for Trump he co-hosted.
The ambassador to the U.K. will be busy. Trump said in his first U.K. interview that he would “work very hard” to get a U.S.-U.K. trade deal done, and vowed to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May soon after he takes the White House. Johnson would likely play a key role in those negotiations.
And he would not be alone. Trump has signaled he would nominate other big donors to staff his administration. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick to run the Department of Commerce, was an economic adviser to the Trump campaign, maxed out on his donations to Trump, and reportedly hosted a fundraiser in the Hamptons for him this year, after the RNC announced he was a State Victory Finance Chair in both Florida and New York.
Trump also picked Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs and a big GOP donor (though he gave no money personally to Trump), to be deputy Commerce secretary. The Ricketts family donated $1 million to a pro-Trump Super PAC in September. Since Trump’s election, Ricketts’ family fortune has grown by about $700 million because of rising share prices for TD Ameritrade, an online discount brokerage Todd’s father Joe founded.
This month Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier, to run the incoming White House’s public engagement with the U.S. business and political community. In July, the RNC named Scaramucci a State Victory Finance Chair in New York. He was reportedly a co-host for two Trump Victory Fund events and he gave $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund in June.
Johnson has been preparing for the new job, signaling he would surrender control of his football team.
In 2006, Johnson was one of four billionaires who got in trouble for utilizing a tax shelter scheme (he reportedly reached a settlement in 2003 and paid 100 percent of the tax due plus interest).
As a bundler back in 2008, he raised at least $500,000 for McCain’s campaign and coordinated a McCain fundraiser in New York City that brought in a staggering $7 million. Prior to backing Trump, Johnson was finance chairman for Jeb Bush’s campaign, until it fizzled out and gave more than half a million dollars to Bush’s super PAC. Trump lamented Johnson’s choice, claiming one year ago that if he’d supported Trump’s bid, the Jets would have been a more successful football team.
Woody Johnson, owner of the NYJets, is @JebBush’s finance chairman. If Woody would’ve been w/me, he would’ve been in the playoffs, at least!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2016
The Jets, after Johnson switched over to Trump, finished 5–11, dead last in the AFC East in the 2016 season.