Jerry Falwell's Wet, Hot, Evangelical Summer Keeps Getting Worse

Liberty University is now investigating his tenure as president, including how he handled the school's finances.
September 1, 2020, 3:49pm
AP Photo/Steve Heber

Former Liberty University president and Trump ally Jerry Falwell Jr.’s problems aren’t over yet, as the university announced it’s launching an independent investigation into Falwell’s presidency, including his handling of the university’s finances.

Falwell resigned last week from his position at Liberty, which he’d held since his father’s death in 2007, after a former business partner, Giancarlo Granda, publicly alleged that he had an on-and-off affair with Falwell and his wife, Becki, for seven years. Falwell has denied he was part of the affair, and the couple claims Granda tried to extort them. Granda has denied those allegations.

But it seems Liberty isn’t finished with Falwell. The university said it’s “learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president,” in a statement published on Monday.

As a result, Liberty said it has retained an independent firm to investigate “all facets of Liberty University operations during Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s tenure as President, including but not limited to financial, real estate, and legal matters.”

In a statement provided to the AP, the Falwells said they “welcome any inquiry, as we have nothing to hide.”

Falwell’s tenure as Liberty president was marked by significant growth for the conservative evangelical university founded by Falwell’s father. But over the past few years, Falwell has become embroiled in multiple controversies, including over his approval of real estate deals for friends and enlisting the help of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen to help suppress “racy photos” of the couple.

Before Granda’s allegations became public, Falwell had already taken an indefinite leave of absence from the university after posting an Instagram photo showing him with his arm around his wife’s pregnant assistant while their pants were unzipped.

“I had on a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a long time and couldn’t get zipped either. So, I just put my belly out like hers,” Falwell explained to a local radio station. “She’s my wife’s assistant, she’s a sweetheart. I should have never put it up and embarrassed her. I’ve apologized to everybody. I promised my kids I will try to be a good boy from here on out.”

Retired Baptist minister Jerry Prevo, the chairman of the school’s board of trustees for over a decade, has taken over as acting president.

After Falwell resigned, Cohen publicly confirmed that he helped the Falwells stop the release of the photos in 2015, though he denied that this had anything to do with Trump. Falwell endorsed the president in January 2016 before the first Republican presidential primary contest, giving Trump crucial backing from the evangelical establishment that helped him win the primary and later the presidency.

The alumni-led group Save71, formed earlier this month to push for Falwell’s ouster, expressed skepticism about Liberty’s investigation in a series of tweets. They also called on the board to take responsibility for enabling Falwell.

Liberty’s board defended keeping Falwell around for so long. “Some may say that all the signs were there for a long time before last week. 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,” the board said.

Cover: Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., gestures during an interview in his offices at the school in Lynchburg, Va., Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Heber)