Falwell being investigated after resigning as president of Liberty University

Free Press wire reports | 9/3/2020, 6 p.m.
Liberty University is opening an independent investigation into Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tenure as president, a wide-ranging inquiry that will include ...
Mr. Falwell

Liberty University is opening an independent investigation into Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tenure as president, a wide-ranging inquiry that will include financial, real estate and legal matters, the evangelical school’s board announced Monday.

In a statement, the board said it had retained an outside firm to investigate “all facets” of the school’s operations under Mr. Falwell, and that it was “committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president.”

Calls for such an investigation had been mounting since Mr. Fal- well’s departure last week from the post he held since 2007. He officially resigned as president Aug. 25 after a confusing day of back-and-forths about whether or not he would be leaving.

His departure came after a news outlet published an interview with Giancarlo Granda, a younger, former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel who later became a business partner of the Falwell family. Mr. Granda said that he had a yearslong sexual relationship with Mr. Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, and that Mr. Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur.

Although the Falwells have acknowledged that Mr. Granda and Mrs. Falwell had an affair, Mr. Falwell has denied any participation. The couple allege that Mr. Granda sought to extort them by threatening to reveal the relationship unless he was paid substantial monies.

The allegations of a sexual threesome ave been swirling for some time. Last year, Mr. Falwell allegedly sought out President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to help prevent the release of some racy personal photos, according to published reports. Mr. Falwell then denied Mr. Cohen’s account that he flew to Florida around 2015 and got the person with the Falwell photos to agree to destroy them.

The couple said in a statement provided to The Associated Press late Sunday that they support Liberty University’s board and “welcome any inquiry as we have nothing to hide.”

Mr. Falwell had been placed on indefinite leave in August after he posted, then deleted, a provocative Instagram photo of him with his pants unzipped, stomach exposed and arm high around the waist of his wife’s pregnant assistant, whose midriff also was showing. He also held a glass of dark liquid that he described in a caption as “black water.” Mr. Falwell has said the photo was taken at a costume party during a family vacation. After that post, alumni and former teaching faculty at the private, Christian school called for his permanent ouster, citing a long list of offensive statements by Mr. Falwell.

This summer, 35 Black Liberty University alumni publicly rebuked Mr. Falwell after he responded to a coronavirus mask mandate by Gov. Ralph S. Northam, a Democrat, with a tweet invoking the blackface scandal that nearly forced Gov. Northam from office.

Mr. Falwell’s tweet in June included the image of a mask emblazoned with a picture of a person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb that appeared on Gov.

Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page. Several African-American faculty members resigned in protest, citing what they said were the school’s long-standing issues with race.

A group of students and alumni blamed the crisis in leadership on the university’s board, saying it had been “derelict” in its duties in allowing Mr. Falwell to damage the spiritual vitality, academic quality and national reputation of the school. The group, called “Save71,” suggested the school begin by removing the “beneficiaries of Mr. Falwell’s inappropriate nepotism.” It also proposed an independent investigation of claims of financial corruption.

Mr. Falwell took over as the president of Liberty University after the 2007 death of his famous evangelist father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. Rev. Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, a conservative political group that was associated with the Christian right and the Republican Party, started the university in 1971. It has since grown into one of the nation’s largest Christian schools, with Mr. Falwell greatly expanding the school and its offerings during his tenure.

Mr. Falwell also stayed in the news for a series of divisive remarks as well as his vocal support of President Trump, and was the subject of news stories that focused on his business dealings.

Liberty’s statement acknowledged that Mr. Falwell’s sharpest critics have long been calling for a departure.

“Some may say that all the signs were there for a long time before last week,” the board’s statement said. “It’s certainly fair to say that there were questionable comments made, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts, but all the signs were not there until the start of last week.”