WASHINGTON — The American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, urged State Department investigators against publicly reporting allegations that he made sexually or racially inappropriate comments to embassy staff, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The report, the product of a routine inspection of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Britain that was conducted over a three-month period in the fall, recommended that officials at the State Department’s headquarters review Mr. Johnson’s conduct.
But the senior diplomat overseeing European issues in Washington indicated he would not open a new investigation of the findings and said Mr. Johnson has since watched a video about workplace harassment and could receive additional training to prevent violations of employees’ civil rights.
It was not clear if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or other top leaders would demand an additional inquiry amid a groundswell from American diplomats who are women or people of color and say they have been sidelined at a department that promotes equal rights and civil liberties around the world.
The final report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General said that staff at the American Embassy in London had reported being subject to “inappropriate or insensitive comments” by Mr. Johnson on topics that may have included references to “religion, sex, or color.” It did not provide specific examples of his remarks.
Several current and former American diplomats have told The New York Times that Mr. Johnson, a pharmaceutical heir who owns the New York Jets, often made female and Black staff members uncomfortable with comments about their appearances or race after he took up his post in London in November 2017.
Some staff members attributed some of Mr. Johnson’s behavior to his age and social status. But others said they were also distressed by suggestions that they were disloyal to President Trump or the United States when they resisted his directives.
The inspector general’s office reported low morale among embassy employees, some of whom said Mr. Johnson had questioned their motives, or implied he would remove them from their jobs, for raising concerns about some of his ideas.
“This caused staff to grow wary of providing him with their best judgment,” the report found. It also cited Mr. Johnson’s “demanding, hard driving work style” as contributing to morale problems.
The final report calls for the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs to coordinate with the department’s Office of Civil Rights to examine Mr. Johnson’s conduct, “and based on the results of the review, take appropriate action.”
In a May 27 letter to the inspector general’s office, Mr. Johnson, who is known by his nickname Woody, said he rejected the conclusion that he may have violated the civil rights of embassy employees.
He also said that, since no employee had filed a formal complaint against him, inspectors should reconsider “including the recommendation in the final report and concluding that my actions have negatively affected morale.”
“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,” Mr. Johnson wrote in his response to inspectors, which was included in the report.
It was the only one of the report’s 22 recommendations that drew pushback from embassy leadership.
In his own response, Philip T. Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said he did not believe that a review of Mr. Johnson’s conduct was necessary.
Mr. Reeker noted that Mr. Johnson had received praise from some employees for hosting coffee gatherings and events at Winfield House, the ambassador’s official residence, for embassy staff.
“Ambassador Johnson is well aware of his responsibility to set the right tone for his mission and we believe his actions demonstrate that,” Mr. Reeker wrote in an undated letter to the inspector general’s office.
“We do not believe a formal assessment is required,” Mr. Reeker concluded, but said that all staff, including the ambassador, would be given additional training “to heighten awareness on these important issues.” He also said Mr. Johnson has since watched a department video on workplace harassment.
The inspector general’s office dismissed Mr. Reeker’s response and said it would consider the matter “unresolved” until his office ensured the complaints were properly investigated and addressed, as required by State Department policy.
The complaints about Mr. Johnson began soon after he arrived in London.
One Black female diplomat told colleagues that Mr. Johnson disparaged her efforts to schedule events for Black History Month, asking her whether he would have to address an audience that was “just a bunch of Black people.” He told the diplomat, who later left the Foreign Service, that she was “marginalizing” herself.
After a visit by the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, Mr. Johnson lashed out at his staff for arranging a reception at his residence that included teenagers, some of whom were people of color who had won scholarships to make recruiting visits to American universities.
At his weekly staff meeting, Mr. Johnson once pointed out to colleagues that he had seen a female employee working out in the embassy’s gym that morning. He joined an exclusive men’s club in London, White’s, that does not allow women, and as a result, did not invite the embassy’s female political affairs counselor, but rather her male deputy, when he held business lunches there.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment on whether Mr. Pompeo or other top officials would review the allegations, as the inspector general’s office recommended. But in a statement, the department said Mr. Johnson had served “honorably and professionally.”
“We stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to him continuing to ensure our special relationship with the U.K. is strong,” the statement said.
The report does not mention a separate controversy that surfaced last month about Mr. Johnson: that he told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that Mr. Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland.
Instead, the report found that Mr. Johnson’s diplomatic efforts with officials in Britain “were consistent” with State Department policy. It said the embassy’s top focus under Mr. Johnson was to help develop new bilateral trade and security agreements as Britain prepared to leave the European Union.
Investigators previously told The Times that concerns about the golf tournament were not raised by staff during interviews at the embassy in London or consulates elsewhere in Britain from September to December 2019.
Even as news reports about Mr. Johnson’s treatment of his staff and efforts to help Mr. Trump relocate the British Open to his own property were about to surface, the ambassador was unapologetic about his loyalty to the president.
On July 21, Mr. Johnson played host at a dinner for Mr. Pompeo and top British officials, at which he served wine from Mr. Trump’s vineyard in Virginia. He was serving it, he joked, even though he knew it might be ethically improper.
The embassy later said that Mr. Johnson paid for the wine himself.
Lara Jakes reported from Washington, and Mark Landler from London.