Billionaire New York Jets owner Robert “Woody” Johnson will be America’s next ambassador to Britain.
President-elect Donald Trump made the announcement at an inauguration luncheon, his transition team confirmed — after the press had been ushered out.
Johnson, 69, is a longtime Trump friend and was his key campaign fundraiser and finance advisor. He previously served as Republican rival Jeb Bush’s campaign finance manager until Bush dropped out of the presidential primary. Johnson heads into his appointment to the Court of St. James with no experience in government nor as a diplomat.
While Johnson was working on Bush’s behalf, Trump lashed his foe for taking “special interest” donor money and indicated that Johnson’s fundraising would influence Bush’s positions on prescription drug policies. Johnson is the great-grandson of the founder of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical and personal hygiene products company.
Johnson donated $500,000 to Right to Rise USA, a super PAC supporting Bush, and then $349,000 to Trump Victory, which divided donations among Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee and state Republican parties, Bloomberg reports.
The appointment comes amid talk by sport officials of launching a National Football League franchise in London as early as 2022.
Johnson, who purchased the Jets in 2000, lives in New York City but also has a $7 million home in Bedminster, New Jersey, overlooking the Trump National Golf Club.
NBC previously reported that if Trump chose Johnson as the British ambassador, his younger brother, Christopher Wold Johnson, would take over the day-to-day operation of the Jets, an organization valued at $2.6 billion. The future ambassador is expected to continue to own the team.
The plum London appointment is almost always awarded to a major campaign donor — though the challenges could be a bit tougher this term as Britain prepares to exit the European Union.
Only one person ever named to the post has been a career diplomat, reports NPR: Raymond Seitz, appointed by George H.W. Bush in 1991. The outgoing ambassador, Matthew Barzun, served as national finance chairman for President Obama’s re-election campaign. Pittsburgh Steelers co-owner Dan Rooney was the U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 2009 to 2012 during Obama’s first term. The appointees are traditionally propped by a solid crew of career assistant diplomats.