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Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Role At Liberty University Is In Question

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Jerry Falwell Jr.'s role at Liberty University is in doubt. The university says he resigned but then had second thoughts. Falwell tells NPR things remain, quote, "up in the air." He is the son of Jerry Falwell Sr., a pastor who played a leading role in making evangelicals a stronger political force in this country. Falwell Sr. also founded the Christian school that now has many thousands of students. Falwell Jr. isn't a pastor but has run the university and is a very public supporter of President Trump. Now a former business partner says he had a years-long sexual relationship involving both Falwell and Falwell's wife.

Aram Roston with Reuters has been reporting on this story for quite some time and is on the line. Good morning.

ARAM ROSTON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Who's the former business partner, and what did he tell you?

ROSTON: So we're talking about a young man named Giancarlo Granda, and he's been written about before because he was in business - he'd been set up in this business that owns a youth hostel in South Beach by the Falwells. They've put millions of dollars into this youth hostel. He met them when he was 20 years old. He was working at the Fontainebleau Hotel, and he said that's where he met them. And he said he began a intimate relationship with Becki Falwell and that Jerry Falwell liked to watch their encounters. The relationship, he said, went on for years, from 2012 really up until 2018.

INSKEEP: Why did he decide to talk to you now?

ROSTON: He said that over the years, his impression of the Falwells has evolved substantially. Again, he was 20 years old when he met them. Now he's 29. He's older. He said that he's trying to disentangle and sever himself from them and that he is still, at the same time, involved in this business with them. He's one of three owners of this business that owns the youth hostel. He's trying to sever himself from it. He says he finally wants to speak freely.

INSKEEP: What is Jerry Falwell Jr. saying about these allegations?

ROSTON: So Jerry Falwell Jr.'s attorney - basically, as we report - had denied the allegations but had not given us an interview at all and commented specifically on what we were asking. Right before we were about to publish, Falwell issued a statement to a small newspaper in Washington, D.C., and in that statement, he said that his wife had an affair with somebody he didn't name, but he was clearly referring to Granda. He said that he was depressed about it. He learned about it later, he said. He said he was not involved and that - he said that he had been extorted. He raised the idea that he was being extorted by this - or he and Becki were being extorted by this young man.

INSKEEP: Could you give us a sense of the political significance, the public significance of these private matters? What has Jerry Falwell's role been in public life?

ROSTON: He had tremendous impact on the 2016 presidential election, I think everybody agrees, because he was the first and most powerful evangelical to endorse Donald Trump right before the Iowa caucuses. Another story that evolved at Reuters - we did a story last year where we reported that Michael Cohen, the president's disgraced lawyer and fixer, had been the one who arranged Falwell's endorsement of Trump. And we reported that he did this after helping the Falwells, involving an issue of some racy photos. So in many ways, Falwell's been a object of curiosity for a couple of years now.

INSKEEP: Aram Roston is a reporter with Reuters and spoke with a former business partner of Jerry Falwell Jr., whose future at Liberty University remains in doubt this morning. Mr. Roston, Thanks.

ROSTON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.