To do so, he said he struck a deal with a lawyer for a father and son who were at that point embroiled in a legal battle with the Falwells
Longtime fixer and personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, has said that he was involved in squashing the release of private images of Jerry Falwell Jr. on behalf of his old boss.
Falwell, a towering force in the U.S. evangelical Christian movement, resigned as president of Liberty University in recent days after a scandal involving an alleged affair that his wife Becki had with a former pool boy, Giancarlo Granda.
Now the jailed Cohen, who has been at war with his old boss Trump in recent years — but for more than a decade was his right-hand man — said he helped the Falwells in 2015 to block the release of “personal photos between a husband and wife.” To do so, he said he struck a deal with a lawyer for a father and son who were at that time embroiled in a legal battle with the Falwells, Business Insider reports. Cohen told CNN:
“Jerry and Becki (were) very upset at the prospect of its (the photos’) potential public release.”
Speaking to the Washington Post, Falwell backed up Cohen’s version of events, saying the images, taken of the couple in their garden, were taken from his phone without his consent. They were not “fully nude,” he said. “They were just pictures of my wife. I was proud of how she looked.”
Falwell’s endorsement of Trump had played a key role in Trump’s 2016 victory. His endorsement helped the thrice-married New York reality TV star to win evangelical voters in a crowded Republican field. Cohen, however, said there was “absolutely no connection between the photos and my personal request to the Falwells to assist the Trump campaign.”
Falwell’s dramatic departure as head of one of the world’s largest Christian universities came a day after Reuters reported that Granda, a business partner of the Falwell family, had come forward with a stunning allegation: that he had been in a years-long sexual relationship involving Falwell’s wife and the evangelical leader.
Granda told Reuters he was 20 when he met Jerry and Becki Falwell while working as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in March 2012. Starting that month and continuing into 2018, Granda told Reuters that the relationship involved him having sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry looked on.
Falwell admitted in a statement that his wife had been in a relationship with Granda, but did not mention Granda’s allegation of a love triangle and Falwell did not address questions from Reuters about the matter.
The statement also said Granda had been trying to extort money from the couple over the matter. Granda denies any such intent, saying he was seeking to negotiate a buyout from a business arrangement he says he had with the couple.
Falwell’s remarkable fall from grace may have little effect on Trump’s chances in 2020. In the years since winning Falwell’s backing, Trump built up his own diehard base of support within the evangelical movement.
A June survey by the Pew Research Center showed that a strong majority of white evangelicals – some 72% of them -approved of Trump’s handling of the job, down modestly from 78% in April.
The Reuters report on Monday was the latest in a string of personal embarrassments for Falwell.
The university chief had taken an indefinite leave of absence from Liberty earlier in the month. That step, announced in a terse statement from the school’s board of trustees, came days after 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. Falwell later told a local radio station that the picture was meant as a good-natured joke.
Cohen, meanwhile, is serving a three-year prison sentence at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. He pleaded guilty in August 2018 to crimes including orchestrating ‘hush money’ payments before the 2016 election to women who had said they had sexual encounters with Trump. He also pleaded guilty in November 2018 to lying to Congress about negotiations concerning a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.