But according to a half-dozen current and former embassy employees, Mr. Johnson regularly made his female and Black staff members uncomfortable with comments about their appearances or race. One Black female diplomat told colleagues that Mr. Johnson disparaged her efforts to schedule events for Black History Month, accusations that were first reported by CNN.
Mr. Johnson, the diplomat said, once asked if he had to speak to 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. On the occasion of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, he asked what made the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deserving of a holiday.
In June 2018, Mr. Johnson lashed out in anger after a visit by the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, because his staff organized a reception at his residence, Winfield House, that included teenagers, some of whom were racial minorities who had won funding to make recruiting visits to American universities. Mr. Johnson complained he had been blindsided; some officials suspected he was uncomfortable with the guests.
The ambassador’s weekly senior staff meeting, which brought together the heads of the embassy’s departments as well as the C.I.A., the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies with outposts in London, could be particularly tense, according to four current and former staff members. Mr. Johnson, they said, liked to open the proceedings with lighthearted comments that often fell flat.
At one meeting, said a person who attended, Mr. Johnson singled out a Black gunnery sergeant, who headed the Marine security detachment at the embassy and was wearing black pants and a black polo shirt. “Black — I like it,” he said, drawing no reaction from the Marine but winces from others in the room.
Two people close to Mr. Johnson said his comment stemmed from the fact that the new uniforms of the N.F.L. team he owns, the New York Jets, rolled out last year, were black. Others viewed the episode as evidence of Mr. Johnson’s awkwardness rather than racist intent, part of a pattern of tin-eared attempts at humor.
Mr. Johnson regularly commented on the appearances of female staff members, once pointing out to colleagues that he had seen one of the women working out in the embassy’s gym that morning. Though he actively recruited women for jobs in the embassy, his actions had the effect of excluding them, according to several diplomats.