U.S. evangelical leader Falwell to leave university after personal scandal

FILE PHOTO: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during the school's commencement ceremonies in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake


Jerry Falwell Jr., a leading U.S. evangelical Christian whose endorsement played a key role in President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, has resigned as president of Liberty University, the school said on Tuesday.

Falwell, through an attorney, sent a resignation letter late last night to members of Liberty’s board, the Lynchburg, Virginia-based school said in a statement.

The news follows conflicting reports about Falwell’s next move, after Reuters reported on Monday that his business partner said he had a years-long sexual relationship involving Falwell’s wife and the evangelical leader.

Falwell, who served as Liberty’s president for over a decade, did not respond to a request for comment.

Falwell, 58, had initially agreed to resign immediately following the Reuters report, but then changed his mind following other media reports about his decision, according to the university.

Giancarlo Granda said he was 20 when he met Jerry and Becki Falwell while working as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in March 2012. Starting that month and continuing into 2018, Granda told Reuters that the relationship involved him having sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell looked on.

Granda shared with Reuters texts and other material that he said supported his account of a sexual relationship with the couple.

On Sunday night, as Reuters was preparing to publish the article, Jerry Falwell issued a statement in which he said Becki Falwell had had an affair with Granda. Becki Falwell did not respond to questions from Reuters.

Falwell’s statement did not mention Granda’s allegation of a love triangle and he did not address questions from Reuters about the matter.

The statement also said Granda had been trying to extort money from the couple over the matter.

Granda denies any such intent, saying he was seeking to negotiate a buyout from a business arrangement he says he had with the couple.

Falwell’s departure represents a remarkable fall from grace for a man who has been a potent force in American conservative politics.

His endorsement played a critical role in Trump’s 2016 campaign, helping the thrice-married New York reality TV star win evangelical voters in a crowded Republican field that included more established conservatives such as Senator Ted Cruz.

But the revelations about Falwell may have little effect on Trump’s chances in 2020. He has repeatedly brushed off allegations that would have ended other political careers, while keeping the support of a die-hard base.

A June survey by the Pew Research Center showed that a strong majority of white evangelicals – some 72% of them -approved of his handling of the job, down modestly from 78% in April.

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