Former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is blaming his endorsement of Donald Trump for president for his downfall, which included being forced to resign as head of the evangelical university founded by his father in shame. To most observers, Falwell’s years of scandals upon scandals are no one’s fault but his own.
It wasn’t Trump that made the Falwells start a three-way relationship with a man young enough to be their son. It wasn’t Trump who made Falwell the allegedly bullying and creepy boss who was “very, very vocal” about his sex life in conversations with university employees.
It wasn’t Trump who made Falwell force Liberty University to stay open when most other colleges went to virtual learning at the beginning of the pandemic. And it wasn’t Trump who made Falwell post a picture to social media with a female employee and his fly open, the incident that finally resulted in his resignation.
But Falwell blames his endorsement of Trump in 2015 – back during the Republican primary when most evangelicals were supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) – for all the scrutiny.
“Trump was the reason they came after me as hard as they did,” Falwell told Vanity Fair in an interview.
At the time, Falwell surprised evangelicals when he said that Trump was “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.” The Cruz campaign had a press release ready for Falwell’s endorsement since most Christian conservative leaders weren’t falling in line behind Trump, who hadn’t made Christian piety a large part of his public image.
Falwell referred to how 2000 students at Liberty University signed a letter in 2016 opposing Trump “because our president has led the world to believe that Liberty University supports Donald Trump, we students must take it upon ourselves to make clear that Donald Trump is absolutely opposed to what we believe.”
Over the next few years, the negative press wouldn’t stop. Some stories, like the Falwells’ long sexual relationship with hotel employee Giancarlo Granda, their multi-million dollar business deal with him, and Falwell’s alleged partying at nightclubs in Miami, were brought to the public’s attention by anonymous tipsters.
Eventually, Falwell said that it was his social media habits that got him into trouble. He posted the infamous picture of himself with a pregnant woman, his fly open while holding a drink (alcohol consumption is forbidden for students at Liberty University). The board of trustees put him on leave and he then resigned. The board then sued the Falwells to reduce his eight-figure severance package.
Falwell said that the board wasn’t fair with him.
“Liberty never had any rules for whether the president or any staff member could drink alcohol,” he said in the recent interview. He said that board members broke the strict rules Liberty imposes on students.
“I couldn’t believe the board was shocked about that.”
Falwell also said that he believes that Franklin Graham – also the son of a major Evangelical leader – used the scandals to get influence over Liberty University. He said that Graham was “jealous” of how Falwell got to run a university while he couldn’t get his idea for a Billy Graham University off the ground.
“He said, ‘You’ll never be anything in evangelical circles again,'” Falwell said about a 2020 conversation with Graham. Graham isn’t commenting on it.