Jerry Falwell Jr. brushed aside reports Monday that he had resigned from his leadership post at Liberty University, telling news organizations he intends to return to the school founded by his father after an “indefinite leave.”
Mr. Falwell emphatically denied a series of earlier reports by The Associated Press, Religion News Service and others that said school officials confirmed he had resigned.
In an interview with Virginia Business, he called those reports “completely false.”
“I have not resigned,” he told Politico. “I will be on indefinite leave.”
The flurry of speculation and conflicting reports came a day after he publicly disclosed that his wife, Becki Falwell, had engaged in a sexual relationship with a family friend and business associate. He accused the man of threatening to expose the affair unless he was paid off.
In an extensive Sunday statement to the Washington Examiner, Mr. Falwell said the man warned that he would “deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies.
“Over the course of the last few months this person’s behavior has reached a level that we have decided the only way to stop this predatory behavior is to go public,” said the statement, which was also provided to AP on Monday.
An enthusiastic supporter of President Trump, Mr. Falwell was placed on an indefinite leave of absence in early August as president and chancellor of the university, which was founded in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr.
The board named Jerry Prevo acting president of the university in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The move followed an outcry over a photo Mr. Falwell posted Aug. 2 on social media showing him and a female friend with their pants unzipped and midriffs exposed, his arm around her waist.
He told radio station WLNI in Lynchburg that the photo was a joke because neither was able to zip up their pants, given that she was pregnant and he was wearing a pair of jeans that were too tight.
Mr. Falwell’s position as head of the university was thrown into further doubt Sunday when he exposed the affair, saying he and his wife met the “ambitious young man” working at their hotel eight years ago during a vacation.
“Shortly thereafter, Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved — it was nonetheless very upsetting to learn about,” Mr. Falwell said in the statement.
“While we tried to distance ourselves from him over time, he unfortunately became increasingly angry and aggressive,” Mr. Falwell said.
The statement did not identify the man, but in a statement to AP, Giancarlo Granda — whose ties to the Falwells have been documented in news stories in recent years — said he had been working with an “investigative team” and accused the Falwells of “attempting to get ahead of the story by creating a false narrative. The truth is coming soon.”
In 2013, the former pool assistant bought with members of the Falwell family a $4.6 million hostel in Miami’s South Beach neighborhood, according to the Miami New Times, leading to a legal fight that involved former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
Mr. Cohen said in recordings first reported by Reuters last year that he helped the Falwells resolve a matter involving regaining personal photographs of Becki Falwell.
Mr. Falwell also said he was suffering from depression and seeking mental health counseling amid the “trauma” of the situation, but that he remains “fully devoted to Becki,” adding that “our love has never been stronger.”
In his statement, he said that “while her indiscretion may have been more obvious and apparent, I realized that there were important smaller things I needed to do better too.”
Mr. Granda, who was 21 at the time, denied that he had attempted to extort the Falwells. He told AP that the couple attempted to “sandbag me” with the admission to the Examiner and that the “concocted allegations of extortion reeks [of] desperation.”
In an interview with Reuters posted Monday, Mr. Granda said he and Mrs. Falwell had a six-year relationship and that Mr. Falwell “enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” which contradicted Mr. Falwell’s insistence that he was “not involved in” the affair.
Mr. Falwell told Virginia Business that the allegation that his wife had a lengthy affair with his full knowledge was “90% false.”
The Washington Times has reached out to Liberty University.
Longtime critics were quick to condemn Mr. Falwell. Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David called him a “fraud,” adding that “it’s long past time for him to have stepped down from his position as president of Liberty University.”
• Douglas Ernst contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
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