Jerry Falwell Jr. Confirms He Resigned As Liberty University President
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK. After a tumultuous 24 hours, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making it official. The prominent evangelical ally of President Trump says he is resigning as president of Liberty University. That comes after a series of high-profile scandals. Here's Falwell.
JERRY FALWELL JR: I'm leaving because I think I've done all I can do. It's better to leave at the top, you know?
KELLY: Falwell and his wife spoke earlier today with NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon, who joins me now.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So I cannot wait to hear what they told you. For everyone who has not followed every twist and turn of this, what do we need to know about how things got to this moment?
MCCAMMON: Right. Let me catch you up. So late Sunday, the Washington Examiner published a statement from Falwell where he said his wife Becki had had a brief affair several years ago with his former business partner, a young man and former pool attendant they'd met in Florida. The Falwells claimed that the pool attendant had tried to extort them financially by threatening to embarrass them. And in a piece published Monday by Reuters, the former business partner, the pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda, claims that his relationship with Becki Falwell also involved Jerry Falwell, that Jerry liked to observe the two of them together and that the relationship lasted for several years. It wasn't brief, as they had claimed.
Yesterday there was a lot of back and forth, with Liberty saying Falwell had resigned, Falwell saying publicly he had not. When I spoke to Falwell and his wife today, he said he doesn't want to embarrass Liberty, and so he's agreed to go.
J FALWELL: I will step aside. And the quote I've been thinking about all night was Martin Luther King Jr. - free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I'm free at last (laughter). And so that's the way I feel.
MCCAMMON: Falwell was already on indefinite leave before this happened after posting a risque vacation photo a few weeks back. And he says after spending several decades working alongside his father, Liberty's late founder, the Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr., he says he's ready for a change anyway.
KELLY: What did he say to you in response to those who point out that this alleged behavior would clearly be at odds with the belief system of a conservative evangelical college like Liberty?
MCCAMMON: Right. The school's honor code prohibits sex outside of marriage. Falwell says he hasn't broken any rules, that he never cheated on his wife. But he does say after his father's death, when he took over leadership of Liberty, he was too preoccupied with work.
J FALWELL: During that time, I kind of neglected my wife and kids because I was so immersed in Liberty and making sure it was successful. That's probably what caused Becki's mistake.
MCCAMMON: And I should note Falwell's father died in 2007. The couple says they met Granda in 2012.
KELLY: Speaking of Becki Falwell, you also spoke to her. What did she say?
MCCAMMON: Right. She told me she was feeling awful about all of this.
BECKI FALWELL: Imagine having to tell your kids that you messed up. We have great kids, and we're blessed that they're forgiving, and they love us. And we have a great family.
MCCAMMON: The Falwell story is very much at odds with what was published by Reuters. The reporter says he's reviewed screenshots that appear to corroborate the pool attendant's story that both were involved. But the Falwells say those photos are being misinterpreted.
KELLY: What's been the reaction to all of this tumult from Liberty University, from the community there?
MCCAMMON: Well, the Liberty board of trustees put out a statement today accepting Falwell's resignation and praising his business leadership of the school. Some alumni are expressing concerns and calling for independent investigations into several matters. And from talking to students in recent weeks, I'm hearing a lot of concern about Falwell's behavior and just a desire to move on.
KELLY: All righty (ph). Thank you, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
KELLY: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.