The leader of one of the largest Christian universities in the United States, whose endorsement helped power Donald Trump to the presidency, has denied reports he has resigned amid personal scandals.
Jerry Falwell Jr told Politico on Monday evening (local time) he had « not resigned » from Liberty University in Virginia, as had previously been reported.
But the university has since released a statement saying Mr Falwell had agreed to immediately resign from his position but withdrew the resignation after media reports about it.
« Additional matters came to light that made it clear that it would not be in the best interest of the university for [Falwell] to return from leave and serve as president, » the statement said.
It follows a young business partner claiming he had been in a years-long sexual relationship involving Mr Falwell and his wife, Becki Falwell.
Giancarlo Granda said the relationship involved Mr Granda having sex with Becki while Jerry looked on.
Mr Granda has shared texts and other material with news agency Reuters that he said supported his account of a sexual relationship with the couple from 2012 to 2018.
Ahead of the claims being published, Mr Falwell issued a statement on Sunday night (local time) in which he said his wife had an affair with Mr Granda.
Mr Falwell’s statement to the Washington Examiner did not mention Mr Granda’s allegation of a love triangle.
« Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved, » he said.
Earlier this month, Mr Falwell, 58, began an indefinite leave of absence from Liberty University, the school he has run since 2007.
The leave began days after Mr Falwell posted, then deleted, an Instagram photo of himself with his pants unzipped, standing with his arm around a young woman whose pants were also partly undone.
Mr Falwell later told a local radio station the picture was meant as a good-natured joke.
Mr Falwell has been a force in American conservative politics. His surprise endorsement of Donald Trump during the 2016 primary race helped the twice-divorced New Yorker win the Republican nomination for president.
She served on the advisory board of the group Women for Trump, which advocates for the President’s re-election campaign.
She also spoke as part of a panel with her husband and Donald Trump Jr at last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC — the signature annual gathering of conservatives.
The university, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, was founded in 1971 by Mr Falwell’s televangelist father, the Reverend Jerry Falwell.
The university boasts an online and on-campus enrolment of more than 100,000 students, holding those who attend to an exacting honour code.
« Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University, » the code reads.
Mr Granda first emerged as a figure in the Falwell’s circle two years ago, when BuzzFeed News reported the couple had befriended Mr Granda and gone into business with him, buying a Miami Beach youth hostel in 2013.
At the time of the BuzzFeed article, a representative of the Falwell family said Mr Granda was « offered a share » in Alton Hostel LLC because he lived in Miami and would act as a manager of the hostel.
The material Mr Granda showed Reuters includes screenshots from what Mr Granda said was a FaceTime conversation he had with the Falwells in 2019.
During that call, Mr Granda said, Mrs Falwell was naked as the two discussed their relationship while Mr Falwell peeked from behind a door.
One 2012 text message, which Mr Granda said came from Mrs Falwell, read in part: « Right now I am just missing you like crazy … Have you had this effect on all of your lady friends? »
Mr Granda said he met the Falwells in 2012 while working as a pool attendant at the storied Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.
He was photographed in a Liberty University aircraft, at a resort with his arm around Mrs Falwell, and shaking Donald Trump’s hand in 2012 while Mr Falwell stood in the background.
According to public documents, Mr Falwell invested $1.8 million in the Miami Beach youth hostel in 2013.
Mr Granda said he was given almost a quarter stake in the business, though he invested no money.
Corporate records show Mr Granda and members of the Falwell family still own the Alton Hostel business.
But his friendship with the Falwells eventually soured because he wanted to dissolve his ties with the couple and fell into a business dispute with them, Mr Granda said.
Mr Falwell’s decision in January 2016 to endorse Mr Trump was one of the most dramatic surprises of that year’s presidential race.
He said Mr Falwell was considering backing Mr Trump even before he announced his candidacy in June 2015.
During a May 2015 conversation at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, Mr Granda said Mr Falwell told him that Mr Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, were pushing Mr Falwell for the endorsement.
The Falwells had previously enlisted Cohen to help keep racy personal photographs from becoming public, it was reported last year.
Cohen’s role became public after comedian Tom Arnold surreptitiously taped a conversation he had with Cohen last year.
In the recording, Cohen told Mr Arnold that the Falwells wanted to keep « a bunch of photographs, personal photographs » from becoming public.
Cohen did not identify who was in the photos, and Reuters was unable to determine this.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
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