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Friday, September 20, 2019

Opinion | Roy Cohn Is How We Got Trump - The New York Times

"By Michelle Goldberg



Near the beginning of “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” the new documentary about the lawyer and power broker who mentored Donald Trump, an interviewee says, “Roy Cohn’s contempt for people, his contempt for the law, was so evident on his face that if you were in his presence, you knew you were in the presence of evil.” He wasn’t being hyperbolic.



The film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, will likely be of wide interest because of how Cohn helps explain Trump. In the attorney’s life, you can see the strange ease with which a sybaritic con man fit in with crusading social reactionaries. You see the glee Cohn derived from being an exception to the rules he enforced on weaker people. From him, Trump learned how, when he was in trouble, to change the subject by acting outrageously, to never apologize and always stay on the offense. When the Justice Department claimed that apartment buildings owned by the Trump family were discriminating against black renters, it was Cohn’s idea to countersue the Justice Department for $100 million.



In the 1950s, as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, Cohn wasn’t just a key player in the anti-Communist witch hunts of the time. He also persecuted men in the State Department who were suspected of being gay, despite being a closeted gay man himself. Later, he became a consigliere to New York’s mafia families, some of whom also had ties to Trump, even as he ranted about law and order.



The film’s title comes from something Trump said when he was frustrated with then Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Cohn was Trump’s template for what a lawyer is supposed to be. (In Attorney General Bill Barr, he seems to have found someone who satisfies him.) “Roy was somebody that had no boundaries,” a lawyer in his firm says in the film. “And if you were on the right side of him, it was great. And if you were on the wrong side of him, it was terrible.”



But what I found most striking about “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” wasn’t its insights into the thuggish president, whose particularly brand of malevolence has been theorized to death. It was its reminders of just how decadent, in every sense, New York society used to be. Cohn was manifestly despicable, but he was embraced, rather than shunned, by New York elites. For a time, he had a sham engagement to Barbara Walters. He hung out with the famed artist Andy Warhol and was a regular at the oft-mythologized nightclub Studio 54.



Warhol is only briefly mentioned in the film, but his diaries mention Cohn’s parties repeatedly. “And when you go to these Roy Cohn things all everybody says is, ‘It’s so amusing, it’s so interesting, because you never know who you’ll find at these things,’” Warhol wrote in 1982. In 1985, he described Cohn’s birthday party at the New York nightclub The Palladium. TV monitors showed Cohn’s anti-Communist speeches from the 1950s. “And that was exciting, it was the best thing,” wrote Warhol.



To understand the milieu Cohn moved in is, I think, to understand at least some of the generation gap among elites over what’s sometimes called “cancel culture” or “call-out culture” or even just “political correctness.” If you are under 35 or 40, it’s probably hard to grasp just how much depravity used to be tolerated in fancy circles, and, further, how tolerating it was itself taken as a sign of sophistication



[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]



During Warhol’s heyday, the amoral celebration of fame was considered glamorous and edgy, and genuine outrage was deeply uncool. Similar values still predominated when I moved to New York almost 20 years ago, when figures like Harvey Weinstein seemed to rule the city.



It wasn’t until the intertwined ascents of social media and millennial progressives that the zeitgeist really turned, and jaded acceptance of the status quo fell from fashion. Younger people, scarred by the wreckage of the financial crisis, looked at the world they’d inherited and felt wide-ranging moral indignation. Unlike their elders, they hadn’t watched the radical promise of the late ’60s curdle into violence and farce, and so weren’t disillusioned with the left.



From left, Donald Trump, Mayor Ed Koch and Roy Cohn at the Trump Tower opening in 1983.

From left, Donald Trump, Mayor Ed Koch and Roy Cohn at the Trump Tower opening in 1983.Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images

Today, wealth and power can still buy horrible people a degree of social acceptance. Sean Spicer lied to the American people for a living and is now on “Dancing With the Stars.” Ivanka Trump is still reportedly invited to celebrity weddings. But the left has far more cultural power than in the past, and some on the left have used that power to re-moralize the public square. Sometimes that means ostracizing people, or, as they say on the internet, canceling them. A more decent society would have done that to Cohn.



Still, it’s easy see why the way the left deploys its influence feels, to some, inquisitorial. The religious right, of course, hates the new cultural mores because it wanted to re-moralize America on its terms. But plenty of liberals are nostalgic for a less sanctimonious era, where, at least in certain cosmopolitan precincts, being amusing and interesting were more important than being upright. Sometimes I feel this nostalgia myself; if you came of age in a culture that celebrated transgression, norms that demand sensitivity can feel restrictive.



But to see the way Cohn was accepted among artists, socialites and the demimonde of New York night life is to be reminded how warped the city’s values used to be. That’s why, for so long, Trump was able to thrive here.



In the end, the social world in which Cohn could be at once a right-wing dirty trickster and a celebrity bon vivant did have rules, and he ran afoul of them. In 1986, after a lifetime of skirting consequences for his corruption, Cohn was disbarred for cheating his clients. (At one point Cohn allegedly dressed up like a male nurse to get a dying multimillionaire client to sign a document making him a trustee of his estate.)



Unable to practice law, his power evanesced. In “Where’s My Roy Cohn,” an old friend explains how, every year, Cohn held a private dinner for his intimates. After the disbarment, the friend arrived at one such dinner. “When I get there, this long table was set, and nobody came,” he said. At the same time, Cohn was dying of AIDS, though he refused to admit it. Trump, his protégé, cut him off. New York wasn’t more forgiving back then. It was just more forgiving of certain people."



Opinion | Roy Cohn Is How We Got Trump - The New York Times

Opinion | ‘Urgent Concern’ About the President - The New York Times

By The Editorial Board





"A whistle-blower’s report has alarmed the intelligence agencies’ watchdog. Why won’t the administration share it with Congress? It’s not every day that a whistle-blower in the intelligence community files a complaint about the president of the United States. But it seems to have happened last month, when an unidentified intelligence employee alerted the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, to multiple acts by President Trump, including a promise he is said to have made to a foreign leader during a phone call. 

The complaint alarmed Mr. Atkinson enough that he considered it a matter of “urgent concern” and alerted the acting director of national intelligence, or D.N.I., Joseph Maguire.
Under federal law, the D.N.I. “shall” deliver an inspector general’s report about an “urgent concern” to Congress within a week of receiving it. But Mr. Maguire has so far refused to. Taking his marching orders from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, he has claimed that the whistle-blower’s complaint did not involve an “intelligence activity,” and that it contained “potentially privileged matters.”
So Mr. Atkinson reached out to Congress himself. In a letter dated Sept. 9, he informed Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, of the existence of the complaint. On Tuesday, with the director of national intelligence still stonewalling, Mr. Atkinson followed up to say that the complaint “not only falls within the D.N.I.’s jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the D.N.I.’s responsibilities to the American people.”

On Thursday, Mr. Atkinson appeared before a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee that was closed to the public and the news media. Mr. Maguire is scheduled to appear before that committee in an open hearing next week. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they expect him and Mr. Atkinson to brief them next week, too. 

Maybe there’s not that much to the complaint; we can’t know yet. What we do know is there is an important principle at stake: that Congress is supposed to have oversight — through confidential hearings — of complaints like this. There’s a solid case to be made that Mr. Maguire, who has not invoked executive privilege as a reason for withholding the complaint, is ignoring the plain language of the law. While the lawyers battle over who is authorized to withhold what from whom, it’s worth making two observations: first, that the intelligence community’s watchdog — not some disgruntled denizen of the “deep state,” but a man appointed by Mr. Trump — was alarmed enough that he thought it necessary to inform Congress. 

Second, that the administration is doing whatever it can to keep the complaint from becoming known, even behind closed doors.

Mr. Trump mocked the whole episode on Twitter, asking, “Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!” That’s a curious claim from a president who has gone to great lengths to hide from his own administration the details of his many conversations with President Vladimir Putin of Russia; who has casually revealed Israeli classified intelligence to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office; and whose defense secretary decided to quit after learning that Mr. Trump had told the president of Turkey over the phone that he was breaking with longstanding policy and withdrawing American troops from Syria. 
Three House committees are investigating whether Mr. Trump tried to get the Ukrainian government to investigate business dealings of the son of the former vice president and current presidential candidate Joseph Biden. They have asked for a transcript of a July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

It may be no coincidence that Mr. Maguire, the man at the center of this particular storm, is serving in an acting capacity, having temporarily taken over the job of director of national intelligence after Dan Coats stepped down last month. That’s how Mr. Trump likes it. “Acting gives you great flexibility that you don’t have with permanent,” he said last month, referring to the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one of the many executive branch positions that have gone for months or longer without a Senate-confirmed leader. In other words, if the president can’t command abject loyalty, he’ll take temp workers who will depend on him moment to moment for their jobs.
The No. 1 task of America’s intelligence and law-enforcement communities is to identify and deal with threats to national security. The problem, as explained by Jack Goldsmith, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, is that Mr. Trump’s behavior has repeatedly revealed “the extent to which our constitutional system assumes and relies on a president with a modicum of national fidelity, and decent judgment and reasonableness.” 

In other words, the system isn’t designed to deal with a situation in which a hazard may come from the president himself."


Opinion | ‘Urgent Concern’ About the President - The New York Times

Younger Black Voters to Their Parents: Break Up With Joe Biden, I’m Bored - The New York Times

Tyler Smith, 19, is lobbying his grandmother to shift her support from Joe Biden to one of his more progressive rivals.



Younger Black Voters to Their Parents: Break Up With Joe Biden, I’m Bored - The New York Times

Chris Cuomo clashes with Rudy Giuliani over Ukraine

Monday, September 16, 2019

Legal Immigration: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

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Opinion | Joe Biden Is Problematic





Charles Blow nails it.  It is time for Black folks to wake up and move on.



"By Charles M. BlowSept. 15, 2019



All five of these things are simultaneously true:



Joe Biden is the Democratic front-runner and may well be the nominee.



He is by far the favorite candidate among black voters.



He was a loyal vice president to Barack Obama, and the two men seem to have shared a deep and true friendship.



He, like the other Democratic candidates, would be a vast improvement over Donald Trump.



And, Biden’s positioning on racial issues has been problematic.



This issue exposed itself again Thursday during the presidential debate in Houston. Moderator Linsey Davis put a question to Biden:



“Mr. Vice President, I want to come to you and talk to you about inequality in schools and race. In a conversation about how to deal with segregation in schools back in 1975, you told a reporter, ‘I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.’



You said that some 40 years ago. But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”



Biden could have taken responsibility for his comments and addressed the question directly, but he didn’t. Instead, he gave a rambling, nonsensical answer that included a reference to a record player. But, the response ended in yet another racial offense in which he seemed to suggest that black people lack the natural capacity to be good parents:



We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.



His language belies a particular mind-set, one of a liberal of a particular vintage. On the issue of race, it is paternalistic and it pities, it sees deficiency in much the same way that the conservative does, but it responds as savior rather than with savagery. Better the former than the latter, surely, but the sensibility underlying the two positions is shockingly similar. It underscores that liberalism does not perfectly align with racial egalitarianism, regardless of rhetoric to the contrary.



On Sunday, Biden made a speech on race in Birmingham commemorating the 1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church, in which he said on the issue of how racism and racial hatred affect black people:



“We know we’re not there yet. No one knows it better. My mom used to have an expression, ‘You want to understand me, walk in my shoes a mile.’ Those of us who are white try, but we can never fully, fully understand. No matter how hard we try. We’re almost, we’re almost at this next phase of progress in my view.”



Progress. That is the wall behind which white America hides, including white liberals. (Even many black leaders have absorbed and regurgitate the progress narrative.) It expects black people to swell and applaud at their effort. But, how is that a fair and legitimate expectation? Slavery, white supremacy and racism, are horrid, man-made constructs that should never have existed in the first place. Am I supposed to cheer the slow, creeping, centuries-long undoing of a thing that should never have been done?



Malcolm X was once asked if he felt that we were making progress in the country. He responded: “No. I will never say that progress is being made. If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made.”



I don’t even think that’s progress. That just returns the situation to a common baseline before the crime was committed.



Furthermore, it’s not what Biden says in prepared remarks that’s problematic, it’s what he says off the cuff and under pressure that to me reveal an antiquated view on racial matters and racial sensitivities.



It was the way he advocated for the 1994 crime bill, a bill that contributed to America’s surging mass incarceration, which disproportionately affected black and brown people in this country.



The bill did some good, but the harm it did cannot be overlooked or understated. Rather than fully owning up to to the disastrous aspects of the bill, Biden has over the years bragged about it and defended it.



It was in the way he described then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 as an African-American who was “articulate and bright and clean.” Clean? As opposed to what?



This critique of Biden isn’t personal. I bear no ill will for the man. But, a fact is a fact, and no amount of growth, change or well-intentioned good-heartedness has the ability to erase it."



Opinion | Joe Biden Is Problematic

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not. - The New York Times

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh during the announcement of his nomination to the Supreme Court on July, 9, 2018.



"Deborah Ramirez had the grades to go to Yale in 1983. But she wasn’t prepared for what she’d find there.



A top student in southwestern Connecticut, she studied hard but socialized little. She was raised Catholic and had a sheltered upbringing. In the summers, she worked at Carvel dishing ice cream, commuting in the $500 car she’d bought with babysitting earnings.



At Yale, she encountered students from more worldly backgrounds. Many were affluent and had attended elite private high schools. They also had experience with drinking and sexual behavior that Ms. Ramirez — who had not intended to be intimate with a man until her wedding night — lacked.



During the winter of her freshman year, a drunken dormitory party unsettled her deeply. She and some classmates had been drinking heavily when, she says, a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it. Some of the onlookers, who had been passing around a fake penis earlier in the evening, laughed.



To Ms. Ramirez it wasn’t funny at all. It was the nadir of her first year, when she often felt insufficiently rich, experienced or savvy to mingle with her more privileged classmates.





ImageThe yearbook photo of Deborah Ramirez in The Yale Banner in 1987.

The yearbook photo of Deborah Ramirez in The Yale Banner in 1987.

“I had gone through high school, I’m the good girl, and now, in one evening, it was all ripped away,” she said in an interview earlier this year at her Boulder, Colo., home. By preying upon her in this way, she added, Mr. Kavanaugh and his friends “make it clear I’m not smart.”



Mr. Kavanaugh, now a justice on the Supreme Court, has adamantly denied her claims. Those claims became a flash point during his confirmation process last year, when he was also fighting other sexual misconduct allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, who had attended a Washington-area high school near his.



Ms. Ramirez’s story would seem far less damaging to Mr. Kavanaugh’s reputation than those of Dr. Ford, who claimed that he pinned her to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothes while covering her mouth.



But while we found Dr. Ford’s allegations credible during a 10-month investigation, Ms. Ramirez’s story could be more fully corroborated. During his Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been “the talk of campus.” Our reporting suggests that it was.



At least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. Two of those people were classmates who learned of it just days after the party occurred, suggesting that it was discussed among students at the time.



We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)



Mr. Kavanaugh did not speak to us because we could not agree on terms for an interview. But he has denied Dr. Ford’s and Ms. Ramirez’s allegations, and declined to answer our questions about Mr. Stier’s account.



Yale in the 1980s was in the early stages of integrating more minority students into its historically privileged white male population. The college had admitted its first black student in the 1850s, but by Ms. Ramirez’s time there, people of color comprised less than a fifth of the student body. Women, who had been admitted for the first time in 1969, were still relative newcomers.



Mr. Kavanaugh fit the more traditional Yale mold. His father was a trade association executive, his mother a prosecutor and later a judge. They lived in tony Bethesda, Md., and owned a second home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. As a student at a prominent Jesuit all-boys school, Georgetown Prep, Mr. Kavanaugh was surrounded by the sons of powerful Washington professionals and politicians. He was an avid sports fan and known to attend an annual teenage bacchanal called “Beach Week,” where the hookups and drinking were more important than the sand and swimming.



Ms. Ramirez grew up in a split-level ranch house in working-class Shelton, Conn., perhaps best known for producing the Wiffle ball, and didn’t drink before college. Her father, who is Puerto Rican, rose through the Southern New England Telephone Company, having started as a cable splicer. Her mother, who is French, was a medical technician.



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Before coming to Yale, Ms. Ramirez took pride in her parents’ work ethic and enjoyed simple pleasures like swimming in their aboveground pool, taking camping trips and riding behind her father on his snowmobile. She was studious, making valedictorian at her Catholic elementary school and excelling at her Catholic high school, St. Joseph.



She and her parents took out loans to pay for Yale, and she got work-study jobs on campus, serving food in the dining halls and cleaning dorm rooms before class reunions.



She tried to adapt to Yale socially, joining the cheerleading squad her freshman year, sometimes positioned at the pinnacle of the pyramid. But Ms. Ramirez learned quickly that although cheerleading was cool in high school, it didn’t carry the same cachet at Yale. People called her Debbie Cheerleader or Debbie Dining Hall or would start to say “Debbie does … ” playing on the 1978 porn movie “Debbie Does Dallas.” But Ms. Ramirez didn’t understand the reference.



“She was very innocent coming into college,” Liz Swisher, who roomed with Ms. Ramirez for three years at Yale and is now a physician in Seattle, later recalled. “I felt an obligation early in freshman year to protect her.”



There were many more unhappy memories of college. Fellow students made fun of the way she dropped consonants when she spoke, but also ribbed her for not being fluent in Spanish. They mocked her knockoff black-and-red Air Jordans. They even questioned her admission on the merits. “Is it because you’re Puerto Rican?” someone once asked her.



“My mom would have preferred me to go to a smaller college — looking back at it, she was right,” Ms. Ramirez said. At Yale, “they invite you to the game, but they never show you the rules or where the equipment is.”



It wasn’t until she got a call from a reporter and saw her account of Mr. Kavanaugh described as “sexual misconduct” in The New Yorker that Ms. Ramirez understood it as anything more than one of many painful encounters at Yale.



Ms. Ramirez also did not see herself as a victim of ethnic discrimination. The college campuses of the 1980s had yet to be galvanized by the identity and sexual politics that course through today’s cultural debates.



Years after graduating, however, she started volunteering with a nonprofit organization that assists victims of domestic violence — the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, or SPAN. She became a staff member for a time and continues to serve on its board. Gradually she embraced her Puerto Rican roots.



This awakening caused Ms. Ramirez to distance herself from the past. She fell out of touch with one Yale friend — who had asked Ms. Ramirez to be her daughter’s godmother — after the friend’s husband made fun of a book she was reading on racial identity. The husband, a Yale classmate, was one of the students she remembered being at the dorm party that difficult night.



“If I felt like a person in my life wasn’t going to embrace my journey or would somehow question it,” she said, “I just let them go.”



Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings were wrenching, as he strained to defend his character after Dr. Ford’s searing testimony. Thousands of miles away, Ms. Ramirez, who was never asked to testify, also found the hearings distressing. Her efforts to backstop her recollections with friends would later be cited as evidence that her memory was unreliable or that she was trying to construct a story rather than confirm one.



Ms. Ramirez’s legal team gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.



Two F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Ramirez, telling her that they found her “credible.” But the Republican-controlled Senate had imposed strict limits on the investigation. “‘We have to wait to get authorization to do anything else,’” Bill Pittard, one of Ms. Ramirez’s lawyers, recalled the agents saying. “It was almost a little apologetic.”



Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and member of the Judiciary Committee, later said, “I would view the Ramirez allegations as not having been even remotely investigated.” Other Democrats agreed.



Ultimately, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, concluded, “There is no corroboration of the allegations made by Dr. Ford or Ms. Ramirez.” Mr. Kavanaugh was confirmed on Oct. 6, 2018, by a vote of 50-48, the closest vote for a Supreme Court justice in more than 130 years.



Still, Ms. Ramirez came to feel supported by the very Yale community from which she had once felt so alienated. More than 3,000 Yale women signed an open letter commending her “courage in coming forward.” More than 1,500 Yale men issued a similar letter two days later.



She also received a deluge of letters, emails and texts from strangers containing messages like, “We’re with you, we believe you, you are changing the world,” and “Your courage and strength has inspired me. The bravery has been contagious.”



College students wrote about how Ms. Ramirez had helped them find the words to express their own experiences. Medical students wrote about how they were now going to listen differently to victims of sexual violence. Parents wrote about having conversations with their children about how bad behavior can follow them through life. One father told Ms. Ramirez he was talking to his two sons about how their generation is obligated to be better.



Ms. Ramirez saved all of these notes in a decorative box that she keeps in her house, turning to them even now for sustenance. One person sent a poem titled “What Is Justice” that has resonated deeply with her.



“You can’t look at justice as just the confirmation vote,” she said. “There is so much good that came out of it. There is so much more good to come.”



Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not. - The New York Times

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Opinion | Elizabeth Warren’s Formidable Stride





"She comes out of the latest Democratic debate stronger than ever.



Elizabeth Warren didn’t have her best debate on Thursday night, nor was she the most poetic or passionate candidate on that overcrowded stage. Beto O’Rourke, describing the toll of gun violence, forged a moment more moving than any of hers. Cory Booker had better one-liners. Pete Buttigieg’s beautifully shaped final answer put hers, delivered minutes earlier, almost immediately out of mind.



But she demonstrated precisely why she has been on an upward trajectory in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and why that arc won’t be interrupted anytime soon.



She showed how canny she can be. How cunning.



Criticism came her way, and she brushed it off like so much lint.



And she was evasive — not a noble quality but an essential one when you’re running for office. Idealism puts you in play. Slipperiness gets you the prize.



I’ll come back to that last observation, but first: Afghanistan. Warren’s reputation isn’t staked on foreign-policy expertise. She focuses more on domestic issues than on international ones.



But when she was asked whether she would pull remaining American troops out of Afghanistan no matter the state of the conflict there, she emphatically said yes, then gave an explanation that was its own miniature master class in political communication.



She established authority by noting that she had traveled there — in the company of Senator John McCain, no less — and that she had grilled and listened hard to generals from her perch on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.



She framed her misgivings about this particular military engagement in accessible, even folksy terms, saying that she would repeatedly ask military leaders “what winning looks like” and “no one can describe it.”



Then came the finishing touch, which made clear that hers wasn’t merely the perspective of some disconnected politician and that plenty in her background overlaps with the experiences of less powerful Americans.



“I have three older brothers who all served in the military,” she said. “I understand firsthand the kind of commitment they have made. They will do anything we ask them to do. But we cannot ask them to solve problems that they alone cannot solve.”



Now that’s an answer. And that’s why Warren will move on from this debate in strong form.



Will Joe Biden? I think so, at least for now. He may even benefit from having been the object of a nasty attack by Julián Castro, who all but accused him of suffering from dementia.



The two of them were quarreling over Biden’s contradictory turns of phrase about his health care plan, a hazy quasi-discrepancy that Castro decided to treat as a referendum on Biden’s very cognition.



“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro asked, as if wielding some hybrid of stethoscope and saber. Then, again: “Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.”



It was gratuitous: Democratic voters can make their own judgments about Biden’s manner of speaking, which has long been sloppy and meandering, if not quite to this extent. Castro’s pointing it out wasn’t illuminating. It was just plain crude.



Buttigieg indicated as much, smartly but a tad too theatrically. “This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable,” he said. “This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington, scoring points against each other, poking at each other.”



“Yeah, that’s called the Democratic primary election, Pete,” Castro responded as he quickly developed a knack for condescension and sank deeper into his hole. “That’s called an election.” True enough, but I doubt that Castro’s campaign will be making and selling T-shirts with the phrase.



I also doubt that anyone’s fortunes will change much as a result of the debate, though some of the candidates were more appealing and compelling than others.



O’Rourke found a fight and fire that had been missing since his star-making Senate campaign. Buttigieg proved again that he knows what distinguishes him in this field of contenders and how to allude to those qualities in any and every riff. If you finished watching the debate and didn’t realize that he was the youngest candidate on the stage and the only military veteran and gay, then you probably also didn’t register how funny Kamala Harris finds herself, which is to say that Castro would have legitimate issues with your level of awareness.



Something weird has happened to Harris: She has gone from smoothly generating electric moments — on the Senate Judiciary Committee, at the first Democratic presidential debate — to contriving them, so that they have no glow or sizzle at all. I want to root for her but she just won’t let me.



Perhaps the most important figure on the stage was Amy Klobuchar, by which I mean that she most readily accepted and aggressively played the necessary role of suggesting that the most progressive proposals — namely, Medicare for All, backed by both Warren and Bernie Sanders — existed in the realm not of the doable but of the dream-able, and that they weren’t going to fix needy Americans’ lives anytime soon.



Amy Klobuchar on the debate stage in Houston.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

“When it comes to our health care and when it comes to our premiums, I go with the doctor’s creed, which is, do no harm,” she said. Then, referring to Sanders’s Medicare for All legislation, she added: “While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill. And on page eight — on page eight of the bill — it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it. And that means that 149 million Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance.”



“ I don’t think that’s a bold idea," she concluded. “I think it’s a bad idea.”



Don’t expect her to get any traction, though. She’s campaigning — admirably — in the realm of the doable. The dream-able is always going to be more vivid and romantic, and that’s where Warren dwells.



I worry lots about how Warren’s grandly liberal plans would play in a general election, but I’m impressed by her increasingly skillful navigation of the Democratic primary. Performance-wise, she’s pulling away from Sanders. He shouts and then shouts louder. She’s hardly quiet, but she has grown better and better at layering in personal anecdotes and dabs of humor, which he has never been any good at.



He still favors the word “oligarchic,” as if saying it for the zillionth time will finally make it roll off the tongue. She instead talks of “multinational corporations” and their corrupt chief executives, using more concrete images and language and doing, from a different end of the political spectrum, what Trump did with such effectiveness: identifying a class of villains on whom all of the country’s problems can be blamed.



She has learned to sail over and around potentially choppy waters. On Thursday night she spoke of her lifelong passion for education without giving the slightest hint of how much her positions on some education-related issues had changed over time. (She once supported vouchers, for example, but not one of her opponents onstage bothered to bring this up.)



She also refused to say whether Medicare for All would require a middle-class tax increase. One of the debate’s moderators, George Stephanopoulos, asked her, and then Biden pressed her, but she never grew flustered and never succumbed, instead stressing repeatedly that in terms of people’s reduced health care costs, they’d be ahead of the game.



You could call that deceptive. You could also call it disciplined. I shook my head but tipped my hat. She’ll be in this thing until the end."



Opinion | Elizabeth Warren’s Formidable Stride

The Well-Documented Case of Trump’s Undocumented Employees | Full Fronta...

‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence - POLITICO Magazine

Jerry Falwell Jr.

"More than two dozen current and former Liberty University officials describe a culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.



At Liberty University, all anyone can talk about is Jerry Falwell Jr. Just not in public.



“When he does stupid stuff, people will mention it to others they consider confidants and not keep it totally secret,” a trusted adviser to Falwell, the school’s president and chancellor, told me. “But they won’t rat him out.”



That’s beginning to change.



Over the past year, Falwell, a prominent evangelical leader and supporter of President Donald Trump, has come under increasing scrutiny. News outlets have reported on business deals by Liberty University benefiting Falwell’s friends. Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen claimed that he had helped Falwell clean up racy “personal” photographs.



Based on scores of new interviews and documents obtained for this article, concerns about Falwell’s behavior go well beyond that—and it’s causing longtime, loyal Liberty University officials to rapidly lose faith in him.



More than two dozen current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell spoke to me or provided documents for this article, opening up—for the first time at an institution so intimately associated with the Falwell family—about what they’ve experienced and why they don’t think he’s the right man to lead Liberty University or serve as a figurehead in the Christian conservative movement.



In interviews over the past eight months, they depicted how Falwell and his wife, Becki, consolidated power at Liberty University and how Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains. Among the previously unreported revelations are Falwell’s decision to hire his son Trey’s company to manage a shopping center owned by the university, Falwell’s advocacy for loans given by the university to his friends, and Falwell’s awarding university contracts to businesses owned by his friends.



“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”



Liberty employees detailed other instances of Falwell’s behavior that they see as falling short of the standard of conduct they expect from conservative Christian leaders, from partying at nightclubs, to graphically discussing his sex life with employees, to electioneering that makes uneasy even those who fondly remember the heyday of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the school’s founder and Falwell Jr.’s father, and his Moral Majority.



In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that in the run-up to Trump’s presidential campaign, Cohen hired John Gauger, a Liberty University employee who runs a private consulting firm, to manipulate online polls in Trump’s favor. Not previously reported is the fact that, according to a half-dozen high-level Liberty University sources, when Gauger traveled to New York to collect payment from Cohen, he was joined by Trey Falwell, a vice president at Liberty. During that trip, Trey posted a now-deleted photo to Instagram of around $12,000 in cash spread on a hotel bed, raising questions about his knowledge of Gauger’s poll-rigging work. Trey did not respond to requests for comment.



Jerry Falwell Jr. responded to more than two dozen written questions, defending his actions and criticizing the reporting of this article. “I fear that the true information I am sharing in good faith will simply not make any difference. And will only result in more questions,” Falwell said. He declined to answer subsequent questions.



The string of news articles over the past several months has had a minimal effect on Falwell’s leadership of Liberty University. As the namesake of the school’s founder, Falwell has never had his position seriously challenged. Liberty is thriving financially. Its enrollment has surged past 110,000 students—the vast majority of whom are enrolled online—and across its campus in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the hum of backhoes and bulldozers is omnipresent as construction crews work to keep pace with the university’s swelling ambitions.



But these new revelations speak to rising discontent with Falwell’s stewardship. The people interviewed for this article include members of Liberty’s board of trustees, senior university officials, and rank-and-file staff members who work closely with Falwell. They are reluctant to speak out—there’s no organized, open dissent to Falwell on campus—but they said they see it as necessary to save Liberty University and the values it once stood for. They said they believe in the Christian tradition and in the conservative politics at the heart of Liberty’s mission. Many knew Jerry Falwell Sr. and remember him with clear affection. “The day that man died was the day I lost a father,” one current university official said. All count themselves as conservatives. Many are strong supporters of Trump.



Jerry Falwell Jr. gestures while speaking as his wife, Becki, listens during a town hall at Liberty University on Nov. 28, 2018.  |  AP Photo/Steve Helber

Jerry Falwell Jr. gestures while speaking as his wife, Becki, listens during a town hall at Liberty University on Nov. 28, 2018. | AP Photo/Steve Helber

I am a graduate of Liberty University, and my time there overlapped the tenures of both Falwell Sr. and his son. Over the course of my years of reporting on the university, the Falwells have granted me considerable access, including sit-down interviews in the offices of both Falwell Jr. and his brother, the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, who leads Thomas Road Baptist Church. I’ve written candidly about my time there as a student, reported about political divisions on campus and revealed that Trey co-owns a gay-friendly hostel in Miami.



Members of the Liberty University community are generally reluctant to go on the record. The school uses nondisclosure agreements to prohibit many university employees or board members from openly discussing what they’ve seen Falwell do. (“All trustees sign a confidentiality agreement that does not expire at the close of Board service,” Liberty’s attorney told board members in an email that was sent earlier this month after the school received inquiries from reporters on some of the issues outlined in this article.) Tenure and its protections are not available to Liberty faculty members outside the law school. If you teach or work at Liberty, you must get approval from Falwell’s office before you speak to the media. Talk to reporters without his approval—or publicly criticize him, even obliquely—and you could lose your job. If you’re a board member and do the same, you could get forced out, even if you have unimpeachable credentials in the Christian conservative movement.



“It’s a dictatorship,” one current high-level employee of the school said. “Nobody craps at the university without Jerry’s approval.”







“Everybody is scared for their life. Everybody walks around in fear,” said a current university employee who agreed to speak for this article only after purchasing a burner phone, fearing that Falwell was monitoring their communications. The fear is not limited to Liberty’s campus. Several people who lack any tie to Liberty but live in the school’s hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, refused to go on the record for this story, fearing Falwell would take revenge upon them and their families. “Fear is probably his most powerful weapon,” a former senior university official said.



But even those who fear have their breaking points.



In speaking out, said one longtime current university employee with close ties to the school’s first family, “I feel like I’m betraying them in some way. But someone’s gotta tell the freakin’ truth.”



“We’re talking about the difference between right and wrong,” a current high-ranking university official said. “Not even ‘being a Christian,’ but being a good person, versus people who manipulate the system.”



Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. looks around the inside of an auxiliary sanctuary at the new Thomas Road Baptist Church in June 2006. | AP Photo/Steve Helber

Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. looks around the inside of an auxiliary sanctuary at the new Thomas Road Baptist Church in June 2006. | AP Photo/Steve Helber

PART I: The Kingdom

Long before his May 2007 death, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr.—the Baptist preacher who founded Liberty University and whose creation of the Moral Majority marked the emergence of white evangelical conservatives as a national political force—made clear how he wanted the empire he’d built to be divided when the time came.



His two sons, Jerry Jr. and Jonathan, had each inherited different aspects of their father’s persona. For Jerry Jr., the elder of the two by four years, it was the stomach for partisan politics, ability to throw an elbow and the savvy to court influential friends. For Jonathan, it was the calling to ministry, his easy way with people and charisma as a public speaker. Jerry Jr. would preside over Liberty University, and Jonathan would lead Thomas Road Baptist Church. Each son had worked under their father at the respective institutions; each knew well what those positions would require.



A bigger question remained: Who would step into Falwell Sr.’s unique role as a national figurehead at the crossroads of evangelical Christianity and conservative politics—a man who counted presidents and senators as friends, a public figure whose outspoken statements riled critics and endeared him to conservatives, and whose endorsement carried real weight with a certain segment of voters?



Left: Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Right: At Thomas Road Baptist Church, Rev. Jonathan Falwell introduces then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in Feb. 2008. | AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, AP PHOTO/The News & Advance, Jill Nance

Left: Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Right: At Thomas Road Baptist Church, Rev. Jonathan Falwell introduces then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in Feb. 2008. | AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, AP PHOTO/The News & Advance, Jill Nance

After the death of Falwell Sr., many within his tight-knit community expected Jonathan to pick up the mantle. A preacher by training, Jonathan had pastoral sensitivities and a personable nature that his brother Jerry lacked.



“Jonathan’s a great speaker and orator, a people person,” one current top Liberty employee close to the Falwell family told me. “Jerry can’t complete a sentence in person. … He’s nervous. It’s just not him, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”



But Jerry had a passion for politics, a talent for riling up a certain type of cultural conservative and a spouse, Becki, who, while publicly playing the role of the quiet, supportive, Baptist housewife, knew how to get her way.



“You know, there’s a head of every family,” said a former university employee who worked closely with Becki Falwell for many years. “But what turns the head? The neck. She’s the neck that turns the head wherever she wants it.”



“Until Big Jerry died, you wouldn’t have known [Becki] if she walked up and slapped you,” said a former longtime Liberty official. “Big Jerry dies, and all of a sudden, [if] you’re walking down the hall and you didn’t greet her right, you’re fired.” As if to underline this point, one longtime university employee shared a 2012 email in which Becki contacted four school executives at 7:06 p.m. to complain that a low-level university employee had posted a Facebook status on her personal account criticizing a lack of adequate parking on campus. “Someone needs to talk to this girl. I don’t think that we allow employees to post negative remarks about Liberty,” Becki wrote to the school officials in a message that included a screenshot of the employee’s post. Shortly before 9:00 p.m., one senior official replied, “We are attempting to call her at home right now.” The woman in question did not respond to requests for comment, but according to her Facebook profile, she is no longer an employee of Liberty University.



In an email obtained for this article, Becki Falwell tells several high-level Liberty officials that "someone needs to talk to" a low-level university employee who complained about parking availability on campus in a post on her personal Facebook feed.

In an email obtained for this article, Becki Falwell tells several high-level Liberty officials that "someone needs to talk to" a low-level university employee who complained about parking availability on campus in a post on her personal Facebook feed.

A half-dozen people with inside knowledge of the Falwell family said that, after Falwell’s death, Becki pushed to shrink Jonathan’s role at the university—a move current and former Liberty officials described as the start of Jerry and Becki consolidating power.



Right after his father died, Jonathan held a position with Liberty University that was limited but which allowed him “to make sure [Liberty] kept its compass,” as one former longtime Liberty official put it. According to a 2008 statement announcing Jonathan’s appointment as the school’s vice chancellor for spiritual affairs, his responsibilities would include upholding the “doctrinal integrity of the university” and advising his brother on “matters of faith.”



“We need to make sure … that we never go in any direction that we as a university shouldn’t go,” Jonathan said in the statement at the time. “That’s the area that I’m going to focus on and do everything I can to ensure that my dad’s life’s work stays continuing to fulfill the mission that he had in 1971,” the year the university was formed.



But now, top Liberty officials say Jonathan doesn’t hold any sway—spiritual or otherwise—over the university that grew out of the church he leads. “As a general rule,” said a former high-ranking university official with longstanding ties to Liberty and the Falwell family, Falwell Sr. “spoke every Wednesday in [convocation] all year long. His desire was that whoever was the pastor of Thomas Road would [continue the tradition and] speak at Liberty. I think Jonathan speaks … maybe a few times per year.”



“Jerry never removed Jonathan,” a former top Liberty official said. “He just kind of pushed him aside.” For one, Jerry used Liberty’s abundant resources to bring his father’s diffuse properties under his control. “He bought all the [Thomas Road Baptist Church] properties, [Liberty Christian Academy], Jonathan’s building at the airport, and a couple of others. Jonathan complained but never stood up to [Jerry] because he knew [Jerry] controlled the purse strings,” the former top official said. Jonathan did not respond to requests for comment.



While longtime confidants of the Falwell family make clear that Becki loves Jonathan—“they’re family after all,” said one former longtime Liberty employee—many feel that she worked hard to make sure that everyone knew it was her husband, and not her brother-in-law, who would assume the elder Falwell’s mantle as a leading figurehead in the conservative evangelical movement. Becki’s message to Jerry, one high-ranking university official said, was simple: You are Jerry Falwell Junior.



As in: the new Jerry Falwell—the new leader of the Religious Right.



A Liberty student prays during convocation at the university in February 2013.  | AP/Norm Shafer

A Liberty student prays during convocation at the university in February 2013. | AP/Norm Shafer

Liberty University has transformed under Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership. When he took over as president in 2007, the school, which is a nonprofit, had listed assets of just over $259 million on its then most recent IRS Form 990; in its filing for the fiscal year ending in June 2017, its assets surpassed $2.5 billion. That number is now more than $3 billion, according to public statements Falwell made in 2018.



That growth is driven largely by a vast increase in the number of online students at the school, who now number some 95,000. Many Falwell confidants are concerned with where they see that university tuition money going: into university-funded construction and real estate projects that enrich the Falwell family and their friends.



Among these projects is a Lynchburg shopping center that is owned by Liberty University but which members of the Falwell family have a personal financial stake in operating, according to emails obtained by me.



In an email dated July 18, 2012, Falwell informed several university executives that his son, Trey Falwell, was “starting a new company to do the management” of properties owned by the school, including the shopping center. Trey Falwell, whose given name is Jerry Falwell III, is now a vice president of Liberty University. On August 7, 2012, Trey registered that privately owned company, JF Management LLC, with Campbell County, Virginia. As the address of its principal office, he gave the location of a house where he and his wife, Sarah, resided.



In a July 2012 email obtained for this article, Jerry Falwell Jr. tells several high-ranking Liberty University officials that his son, Trey, is starting a new company to manage a property owned by the school.

In a July 2012 email obtained for this article, Jerry Falwell Jr. tells several high-ranking Liberty University officials that his son, Trey, is starting a new company to manage a property owned by the school.

Experts on tax law and nonprofit organizations said that having the president of a nonprofit university directing university business to a company led by his son would be troubling.



“It raises red flags to have your kids being able to profit off the activities of the organization,” said Philip Hackney, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School who specializes in taxation and nonprofit management. As a general matter of law, “a nonprofit director or officer owes a ‘duty of loyalty’ to the nonprofit. What this means is he cannot take unfair advantage of the nonprofit he controls to his advantage.”



It’s the responsibility of nonprofit leaders to look out for the best interests of their organization, Hackney said, and as a standard practice, those leaders should be able to show how their financial transactions further the nonprofit’s mission in some way.



Asked how the property-management arrangement furthers Liberty’s mission, Falwell said the shopping center was donated to the school in poor condition. “Frankly, there are fewer professional property managers who would be interested in running it for us.”



A stone’s throw from the shopping center is a LaQuinta Inn whose ownership also raises questions about whether Falwell is directing business to family and friends.



The LaQuinta is owned by Comeback Inn LLC, which is registered to Chris Doyle, who manages real estate for the university. In a December 2018 affidavit, Falwell Jr. described Doyle as his “partner in … real estate ventures in Virginia.” Multiple current and former university officials with knowledge of the LaQuinta arrangement said Trey Falwell is a silent shareholder in Comeback Inn.



In an email responding to questions, Doyle declined to discuss the issue. “If my personal and business relationships are of value and interest to the public, I should write a book and [see] no reason to comment at this time,” Doyle said.



Emails obtained for this article show that on at least one occasion, university employees were asked to promote the LaQuinta on the school’s website—what several current and former high-ranking Liberty officials and employees described as part of a process where the school “funnels business” to the hotel.



Falwell denied having a financial interest in Comeback Inn. “I have not financially benefitted from Comeback Inn’s business and I have never owned any interest in Comeback Inn, LLC,” Falwell said in a statement. He did not answer for his son. “I will let Trey Falwell respond separately on his own behalf if he has any comment regarding your question.” Trey Falwell did not respond to requests for comment.



“What I have found over the years is if something doesn’t make sense and Jerry really wants it to happen, he in some form or fashion has a personal interest,” said a current high-ranking Liberty employee with knowledge of Falwell’s financial dealings.



AP

AP

The line between where the Falwell family’s wealth begins and Liberty’s finances end is blurry.



University officials describe Liberty loaning money to the Falwells’ friends, even when these loans arguably are not in the school’s financial interests. According to emails and loan documents obtained for this article, in 2014, the university gave loans of at least $200,000 to Prototype Tourism LLC, a “destination marketing” company founded by Liberty graduate Josh Oppenheimer, whom Jerry Falwell Jr. described to me as “a friendly supporter.” According to emails I’ve reviewed, several high-ranking Liberty officials knew about the loan, including Vice President Trey Falwell. The graduate had difficulty repaying the loan—“not surprised,” Trey wrote in an email.



When asked about the loan, Jerry Falwell Jr. clarified the school’s role with Prototype Tourism. “Liberty University was not simply a lender, but was a minority investor in Prototype Tourism, LLC,” he wrote. Falwell described the company’s goal as promoting tourism to Lynchburg. “Due diligence was performed by multiple individuals who discussed the pros and cons and the consensus was that it was worthwhile to proceed,” Falwell wrote. “In the end, I reluctantly agreed with the recommendation and allowed the transaction to proceed. In hindsight, it was not a good decision. … LU lost its investment and the loan portion of the deal was only partially paid back.”



Other loans were precursors to massive contracts. In 2013, Robert Moon, a friend of Falwell’s with deep family ties to the Falwells, founded Construction Management Associates Inc., a construction company devoted to work on and around campus. Previously unreported is the fact that Liberty gave Moon a loan of $750,000 to form the company before awarding it more than $130 million in contracts and selling it land owned by the university.



When I described this arrangement to Hackney, the associate professor at Pitt Law, he said: “This is not standard or good practice. … A nonprofit that is not in the business of loaning money has little reason to be conducting such activity. It raises issues of whether these are in fact charitable activities that further the nonprofit’s mission.”



Asked whether such loans were a common practice for the university, Falwell wrote in an email that “Liberty has considered investments in other local start-up businesses that would help the University’s business model and the local economy.”



“On the other hand,” Falwell continued, “Liberty University has one of the largest unrestricted endowments in the nation and frequently invests in hundreds, if not thousands, of companies across the world purely for the return on investment whether the company has any nexus to Liberty’s mission or not. The same is true of every major university.”



Moreover, Falwell continued, “I have not personally benefited financially from CMA’s or any other contractor’s work for Liberty University nor has any member of my family.”



At the outset, some in Falwell’s inner circle were not so confident in the arrangement with Moon. Before his CMA Inc. became Liberty’s go-to contractor, the school bid out its construction work through an office on campus. (“Free enterprise tends to do pretty well,” one high-ranking university official said.) The prospect of changing that—giving CMA control over campus construction and its associated costs—rankled some senior university officials.



Early on in the CMA partnership, before CMA became the university’s single-largest contractor, Charles Spence, the school’s then-vice president of planning and construction, expressed unease about the high costs Moon was quoting for certain school projects. “Jerry I am very concerned about cost control on all the projects,” he wrote to Falwell in a November 2014 email. “Over the last couple of weeks we have had a lot of meetings and conversations on cost and cost overruns. We are just seeing the information begin to trickle in and there really don’t seem to be good answers just a response that the cost we are seeing are fair, and being handled appropriately.”



“I hope that I am over reacting,” Spence continued, “but I assure you I am concerned.”



“I am fine with going back to bidding every project out if CMA can’t run with the big dogs!” Falwell replied. “Let’s hold their feet to the fire!”



In each of the two years that followed, Liberty paid CMA more than $62 million, part of at least $138 million in contracts from Liberty since the company was formed, according to publicly available tax documents.



Senior Liberty officials might whisper about the propriety of these business deals, but they told me that Falwell’s decisions on campus are rarely ever challenged by the school’s board of trustees. “There’s no accountability,” a former high-ranking university officer said. “Jerry’s got pretty free reign to wheel and deal professionally and personally. The board will approve an annual budget, but beyond that … he doesn’t go to the board to get approval. … It simply doesn’t happen.”



In his statement, Falwell said he and Moon “are on friendly terms and [have] interacted socially in past years but neither of us would list the other on their list of close friends and associates. It is completely a typical arms-length business relationship.”



But there is evidence to the contrary—much of it documented on the Falwells’ own social media accounts.



In June 2013, for instance, the year CMA was formed, Falwell shared a photo on Instagram showing him, Becki and Trey joining Moon for a cruise down the James River on Moon’s private boat. When asked about the photographs, Falwell admitted to joining Moon on his boat “about five or six times.” “These afternoon outings did not cause me to lose my negotiation skills or abandon my fiduciary duties to enter into deals in the interest of the University,” Falwell wrote.



In this June 2013 Instagram post by Jerry Falwell Jr,. Falwell and his wife Becki pose for a photograph with Robert Moon during a boat ride on the James River. | Instagram: jerryfalwelljr

In this June 2013 Instagram post by Jerry Falwell Jr,. Falwell and his wife Becki pose for a photograph with Robert Moon during a boat ride on the James River. | Instagram: jerryfalwelljr

In July 2014, Falwell, Trey and Moon traveled to Miami together. Falwell said in his statement that he recalls “discussing University business” on the trip.



During the trip, photos were taken of Jerry and Trey Falwell partying at a Miami nightclub—photos that multiple Liberty University officials said Jerry Falwell tried to make disappear.



In this July 19, 2014, photo from Miami Beach

In this July 19, 2014, photo from Miami Beach's WALL nightclub, Jerry Falwell Jr.

PART II: The Fixer

On July 19, 2014, popular Swedish DJ John Dahlbäck performed at Wall, a nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla. That night, the club happened to have a photographer on-site to grab candid shots of the revelry. The photos were shared online by World Red Eye, an outlet that documents Miami’s nightlife scene, and Jerry and Trey Falwell were visible in some of the pictures—the outlet identified Trey by name.



In a statement on August 21, Jerry Falwell denied the existence of any photo of him at the club. “There was no picture snapped of me at WALL nightclub or any other nightclub,” Falwell wrote. “I’m sure you already knew that though.”



When told that I had obtained a photo of him for this article, Falwell said I was “terribly mistaken.” “If you show me the picture, I can probably help you out,” he wrote. “I think you are making some incorrect assumptions, or have been told false things or are seeing something that was photo--shopped.”



After I sent him the photo, as well as a photo of Trey at Wall, Falwell responded: “I never asked anyone to get rid of any pictures on the internet of me and I never have seen the picture you claim is of me below. If the person in the picture is me, it was likely photo-shopped.” In a second email sent 23 minutes later, Falwell wrote: “But the bigger question, Brandon, is why would I want a picture like that taken down if I had seen it?”



Left: A zoomed-in close-up of Jerry Falwell Jr. in the crowd at WALL nightclub in Miami Beach, taken from the photo at the start of this section. Right: Also at the club that night were Trey Falwell and his wife, Sarah. | Seth Browarnik/WorldRedEye.com

Left: A zoomed-in close-up of Jerry Falwell Jr. in the crowd at WALL nightclub in Miami Beach, taken from the photo at the start of this section. Right: Also at the club that night were Trey Falwell and his wife, Sarah. | Seth Browarnik/WorldRedEye.com

According to several people with direct knowledge of the situation, Falwell—the president of a conservative Christian college that frowns upon co-ed dancing (Liberty students can receive demerits if seen doing it) and prohibits alcohol use (for which students can be expelled)—was angry that photos of him clubbing made it up online. To remedy the situation, multiple Liberty staffers said Falwell went to John Gauger, whom they characterized as his “IT guy,” and asked him to downgrade the photos’ prominence on Google searches. Gauger did not respond to requests for comment.



Gauger has worked at Liberty since earning his MBA from the school in 2009. In 2016, he was promoted to become the school’s chief information officer about a year and a half after he was named deputy CIO. To several university sources, his rapid rise to the C-suite was shocking.



“I’m not being disrespectful, but John was a nobody,” one longtime Liberty official said. “And the next thing you know, he’s high up in IT.”



Longtime Liberty officials describe Gauger as a sort of fixer for Falwell, a man promoted because he would do what Falwell asked of him without complaint. But Gauger is more than just a university employee: Since 2009, Gauger has also run RedFinch LLC, an online business he founded that specializes in search-engine marketing and does lucrative contract work for Liberty. Tax records show Liberty paid RedFinch $123,950 during 2016, for what sources described as search-engine recruitment of online students for the university. Gauger did not respond to requests for comment.



RedFinch’s online work for the school goes beyond typical SEO marketing. In an email from August 2013 obtained for this article, Falwell asked Gauger to defend him in the comments section of a local news article that Falwell felt reflected too negatively on him. Falwell even emailed Gauger the exact wording to post.



“I’m having my RedFinch guys blow this up right away,” Gauger responded. “I’ll tell you how it goes.”







When Falwell told Gauger a different employee already chimed into the conversation, Gauger insisted that he’d “have a few accounts turn the conversation elsewhere just for good measure.”



According to several longtime Liberty employees, it’s extremely unusual for university employees to be allowed to own side businesses that do contract work for the school. “I’ve always had a problem with RedFinch because there never was any clear and distinct lines,” one former Liberty employee told me. “You can’t work at Liberty 8-5 on the clock and get paid from somebody else for the same hours.”



Multiple university officials said Gauger is very close, both personally and professionally, with the Falwells, especially Trey. At Liberty, Gauger reports to Trey, and Trey answers only to his dad.



In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that in 2014 and 2015, Michael Cohen hired Gauger’s side business, RedFinch LLC, to rig online polls in Donald Trump’s favor while he considered a run for the presidency. Gauger’s work consisted of writing a computer script to repeatedly vote for Trump in two online polls; his company would get paid $50,000 in return. Instead, Gauger told the Journal that after a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Cohen paid Gauger roughly one-fourth of that amount—between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash—and gave him a boxing glove worn by a mixed martial arts fighter.



Through his lawyer, Cohen, who is serving a three-year prison sentence for tax fraud, making false statements to Congress and violating campaign finance laws, declined a request to comment for this article.



Previously unreported about this incident is that Trey joined Gauger on the January 2015 trip to New York, and posted a photo to Instagram showing a large amount of cash spread atop a bed in a hotel room. Liberty officials who saw the since-deleted post and described its contents said it raised questions about Trey’s involvement in the pro-Trump poll-rigging effort.



“The idiot posted [a picture of] money on a bed?!” one current senior Liberty official said. “Why do that if you’re not involved with it?”



Liberty officials also pointed to a tweet sent out by the university’s Twitter account on January 23, 2014, linking to one of the polls that the Wall Street Journal reported Gauger had rigged. The poll was conducted by CNBC and asked readers to vote for the top American business leaders.



On Jan. 23, 2014, Liberty University

On Jan. 23, 2014, Liberty University's official Twitter account asked its followers to vote for Donald Trump in an online poll hosted by CNBC. The online poll was among those Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney, paid John Gauger, a Liberty employee and owner of RedFinch Solutions LLC, to manipulate. | Twitter

As a nonprofit, Liberty University is legally prohibited from engaging in “political campaign activity,” to use the IRS’ phrase, at the risk of losing its nonprofit status.



When asked about the tweet, Falwell told me he authorized the university’s marketing department to send it as way of thanking Trump for speaking at Liberty. “A representative of the Trump business organization asked for Liberty University to use Twitter to encourage followers to vote for Donald Trump in the annual CNBC poll. We often get requests from Convocation speakers to promote their books, movies, music and other projects. And we do it all the time,” Falwell said. “After speaking for free at [a 2012 Liberty] Convocation and being so complimentary to our University in his remarks, I considered Donald Trump to be a friend of Liberty University and was happy to publicize the poll in hopes that Liberty followers would be willing to vote for him on the heels of his very positive recent campus appearance.”



Falwell noted that at the time the tweet was sent, “Donald Trump was not a candidate for president and no one at Liberty even knew he would run for President.” However, as the Wall Street Journal reported—and as several sources independently confirmed in the course of my reporting for this article—Cohen had hired Gauger, a Liberty employee, to rig the poll in Trump’s favor for the purposes of garnering support ahead of his presidential bid.







“A 501(c)(3) organization trying to influence a poll so that a candidate’s fortunes are promoted or demoted is not permitted,” said Eve Borenstein, an attorney and tax expert known as the “Queen of the 990,” a moniker used to introduce her ahead of congressional testimony she gave about the IRS Form 990 in 2012.



While 501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to “do objective analysis of [an] electoral horse race,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, “tweeting out a rigged poll if Liberty knew it was rigged probably does not fall into that safe harbor.”



Liberty officials said that the arrangement is characteristic of how Falwell wields power. “This paints a picture of how Jerry operates,” one former high-ranking university official said. “Gauger gets promoted, [Liberty] contracts for RedFinch for online recruitment … and [Gauger] gets hooked up with people like Cohen to make more money via RedFinch.” And in the end, Falwell gets what he really wants: “A guy that will do whatever he is told.”



Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, leaves federal court in Dec. 2018. | AP

Michael Cohen’s connection to Jerry Falwell Jr., veers into deeply personal territory.



In May 2019, Reuters reported that Cohen helped Falwell contain the fallout from some racy “personal” photos. Later that month, Falwell took to Todd Starnes’ radio talk show to rebut the claims.



“This report is not accurate,” Falwell said. “There are no compromising or embarrassing photos of me.”



Members of Falwell’s inner circle took note of the phrasing.



“If you read how Jerry is framing his response, you can see he is being very selective,” one of Falwell’s confidants said. Racy photos do exist, but at least some of the photos are of his wife, Becki, as the Miami Herald confirmed in June.



Longtime Liberty officials close to Falwell told me the university president has shown or texted his male confidants—including at least one employee who worked for him at Liberty—photos of his wife in provocative and sexual poses.



At Liberty, Falwell is “very, very vocal” about his “sex life,” in the words of one Liberty official—a characterization multiple current and former university officials and employees interviewed for this story support. In a car ride about a decade ago with a senior university official who has since left Liberty, “all he wanted to talk about was how he would nail his wife, how she couldn’t handle [his penis size], and stuff of that sort,” this former official recalled. Falwell did not respond to questions about this incident.



More than simply talking with employees about his wife in a sexual manner, on at least one occasion, Falwell shared a photo of his wife wearing what appeared to be a French maid costume, according to a longtime Liberty employee with firsthand knowledge of the image and the fallout that followed.



Falwell intended to send the image to his and Becki’s personal trainer, Ben Crosswhite, as a “thank you” for helping his wife achieve her fitness goals, the employee said. In the course of texting, Falwell accidentally sent the message to several other people, necessitating a cleanup.



In a statement, Falwell denied this. “I never had any picture of Becki Falwell dressed in a French maid uniform, and never sent such a non-existent photo to Ben Crosswhite.”



Crosswhite did not respond to requests for comment.



The Falwells’ close relationship with Crosswhite is the source of consternation for some of Liberty’s top brass because of what they characterize as a sweetheart business deal Falwell had the university offer Crosswhite.



On July 23, 2013, Liberty University began renting space to Crosswhite for use as a fitness center. “The facility was specifically built into the old Racket Club for Jerry and Becki to train privately” with Crosswhite, a longtime university official familiar with the arrangement said. Over the course of the Falwells' private training, Liberty began to pay for expensive upgrades to the facility, according to documents reviewed for this article. Eventually, in 2015, Falwell had a university executive draft a proposal for Liberty to sell the property to Crosswhite at a discount, paying him up front for Liberty’s use of the facility for the next seven years.



“We raised his rent some to cover the investment. LU then sold it to Ben,” one senior university official said. “Nobody else was allowed to bid on it.”



In a Dec. 10, 2013, Instagram post, Becki Falwell and Michael Cohen pose for a photograph during a visit to New York City. "Wonderful seeing my great friend @michaelcohen84 in NY," Falwell wrote. "He

In a Dec. 10, 2013, Instagram post, Becki Falwell and Michael Cohen pose for a photograph during a visit to New York City. "Wonderful seeing my great friend @michaelcohen84 in NY," Falwell wrote. "He's the best." | Instagram

In a September 2015 email, Liberty University Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Randy Smith wrote Crosswhite to let him know the terms of the deal. The university would sell Crosswhite “the club and all real estate associated with it” for $1,216,000. Liberty employees would be allowed to use the facility, Crosswhite could decide what the value of that was—roughly $82,000 per year, he decided—and the school would pay in advance for seven years of use.



At closing, per Falwell’s approval, Liberty would pay Crosswhite approximately $575,000, which effectively cut Crosswhite’s total cost for the $1.2 million property in half. “The net amount that you would need at closing is $641,062 more or less,” Smith wrote. “After reviewing, if the terms are acceptable to you, then I will get final approval from Jerry to proceed,” Smith wrote Crosswhite.



“Hell of a deal,” a former high-ranking Liberty official told me. “We gave Ben everything he asked for.”



In emails obtained for this article, David Corry, lead counsel for Liberty University, expressed concerns about the appearance of the deal. “Please note, though, that Ben Crosswhite enjoys a close working relationship with several LU administrators, including the President, so I suggest whatever course of action is taken, it is done cordially and professionally with knowledge ahead of time that it may be second guessed,” Corry wrote in a September 2017 email to top Liberty staff.







When asked for comment on August 22, Corry four times asked me to turn over to him the email thread. When Corry was provided the exact wording along with the date he sent the email, he replied that he wasn’t shown his “signature block,” perhaps suggesting he had not sent the email in question. When Corry was presented with a screen shot of his email, including his signature block, he said his comment was taken out of context and alleged the sources for this article “are intentionally feeding you partial facts in hopes you will do their dirty work in a very public way.” On August 27, Reuters broke the news of Liberty’s property sale to Crosswhite.



In a statement for this article, Falwell wrote that the athletic facility had been donated to Liberty University and was “a drain on University resources that was disproportionate to its value.” “I wanted to reverse that and allow the University to get what it needed from the facility but eliminate the annual costs of maintenance, staffing and operations,” Falwell said. “Since Ben Crosswhite would not be receiving full use of the entire property” given the university’s continued use of the facility, Liberty decided “Crosswhite never received full value of the whole property and thus should not pay full price.”



“Unless you are approaching this with some sort of pre-determined outcome, the transaction is very easy to understand,” Liberty COO Smith wrote in an email responding to questions for this article. “It is VERY common practice for the university to dispose of an asset that is in financial and operational distress … especially if it can do it in a fashion that is advantageous to the university. To accomplish that while still making the facility available for the university to use is what most would consider to be a win-win situation.”



Smith said the idea for the financial arrangement used to sell the athletic facility to Crosswhite was his. “I proposed that the university commit to renting … from him for a number of years and we could pay that in the form of a credit at closing,” Smith wrote. “To answer your question, yes, creative deals are commonplace at Liberty University.”



“When I hear the laundry list of interested transactions and the questionable use of Liberty University’s assets … I hear a nonprofit that is not well-governed in a sense that I would hope and expect from a sizable nonprofit,” Pitt Law’s Hackney said. “It has the sense of being managed for a charismatic leader and his family and friends rather than for the mission of Liberty.”



Liberty University graduates celebrate after the school

Liberty University graduates celebrate after the school's May 2007 commencement ceremony. | Getty Images

PART III: The Power and the Glory

It will surprise no one that Jerry Falwell Jr. is a Republican. He has that in common with the vast majority of people connected to Liberty. But sometimes his partisan allegiances manifest in ways that directly influence the governance of the school—which, as a nonprofit, must not endorse or oppose candidates for public office.



Just days after the 2008 election of Barack Obama, top university officials were already considering ways to ensure that Liberty students voted in 2010 local elections in Lynchburg. Falwell and university officials weren’t simply talking about the sort of voter-registration drives common at many college campuses; they wanted students to tilt the balance of the election.



In emails obtained for this article, top school officials shared a local newspaper article documenting “concerns in some quarters [of Lynchburg] about the overwhelmingly conservative LU students and the possibility they could alter the balance of power on council and change the course of the city.”



“FYI - The challenge we will have in 2010 is [Lynchburg’s local Election Day] is finals week,” a top Liberty official wrote in a November 9, 2008, email to Falwell and other school leaders. “We would either need to get a polling station at LU or try and make this a reading day to get the kids out to vote.”



Falwell responded to the message just under four hours later, announcing that the problem was now solved: “We changed the calendar by one week. School will now let out on May 14 instead of [M]ay 7.”



This wasn’t a fluke. According to a former high-ranking university official who participated in some of these discussions, Falwell often takes “aggressive efforts … to register students in an effort to gain political influence.”



Similarly, in a 2014 email exchange, Falwell complained that Liberty’s commencement date meant that most students would be gone for the summer by the time voting began for Lynchburg’s local elections. “Why did we schedule commencement a week earlier this year?” he wrote in an email to several school executives. When one replied that commencement usually happened during the same weekend each year, Falwell pushed back. “We need to get that corrected for the 2018 graduation or else we will have no students in town to vote in local elections again,” Falwell wrote. “Let’s work on it.”



In the past, Falwell has defended any political actions he’s made as personal stances disconnected from his leadership of Liberty University. “I think our community is mature enough that they understand that all the administrators and faculty have their own personal political views,” he told the Washington Post after endorsing Trump. But it is as the president and chancellor of Liberty that Falwell changed the academic calendar to influence local politics.



In a statement, Falwell admitted to amending the academic calendar “so that students would not be prevented from voting in local municipal elections that used to be scheduled after their spring term exams.”



“They and their parents pay some of the highest taxes in the nation when it comes to the City meal and hotel taxes,” Falwell said. “It’s only fair that they have some say about who is elected to represent them.”



When I shared my reporting on the school’s date changes, legal experts reached different conclusions as to its propriety.



“This paints a picture of an organization that is intervening on campaigns more than it should,” said Pitt Law’s Hackney, although he added that other universities have “presumably” taken student voting into consideration when creating their schedules.



“Doing anything with the resources of a 501(c)(3) organization to promote or oppose candidates for elective public office is not a permitted operation by a 501(c)(3)-qualified organization under federal tax law,” Borenstein, the tax attorney specializing in nonprofit organizations, wrote in an email.



Still, Falwell’s actions here are “likely fine,” said Torres-Spelliscy, the law professor at Stetson University. “Many schools try to cancel classes or hold no classes on Election Day to encourage students to vote or be poll workers or engage in election protection activities. Though the IRS might consider Falwell’s stated partisan motivation if the IRS investigated Liberty to challenge its 501(c)(3) status, this type of investigation is highly unlikely.” In fact, according to Ellen April, a professor of tax law at Loyola Law School, a very small number of 990 Forms are ever investigated. “The IRS is able to do very little enforcement of the rules applicable to 501(c)(3) because of their limited" resources.



President Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr. onstage during Liberty

President Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr. onstage during Liberty's May 2017 commencement ceremony. | Getty Images

Observers snickered when Donald Trump visited Liberty’s campus in 2016, veered off script and infamously referred to the Bible's Second Corinthians as “two Corinthians”—making it appear as if he were learning of the biblical book for the first time. But his promises to religious conservatives—chief among them, his guarantee that he would fill Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court empty seat with a justice who opposed abortion rights—and his choice of Mike Pence as his running mate mobilized evangelicals to support him in 2016. In CNN’s exit poll from that November, 26 percent of the electorate described themselves as white born-again or evangelical Christians; 80 percent of them voted for Trump.



In 2017, with Trump in office and evangelicals strongly supporting him, the Falwells saw a branding opportunity, according to emails obtained for this article.



That spring, after Trump was invited to deliver the school’s commencement address, Becki Falwell asked university counsel Corry to look into whether Liberty could “permit third-party vendors to sell t-shirts and hats [on campus] during commencement weekend.” Corry advised that because of a contract between the university and Barnes & Noble, which had the exclusive right to sell “clothing, including any and all such items bearing Liberty University emblem, logo, insignia, or other identifying mark” on campus, the answer “depends upon who is selling them and whether Barnes & Noble consents.”



“I want to make sure that we have a lot of options available to purchase,” Becki Falwell replied, adding additional Liberty officials to the email thread. “It’s great advertising for Liberty to be on products with Trumps name.”



In a follow-up email to the Liberty officials, Becki wrote, “I spoke to Michael Cohen and he said to make sure any shirts we buy are made in America! He loved the designs!”



The school ended up printing and selling Trump T-shirts and hats. The shirts, in MAGA red with white type, read “TRUMP” in large block letters and “Liberty University Commencement 2017” in a much smaller font size. Another design, used on both hats and T-shirts, borrowed Trump’s campaign slogan and signature style: an all-caps “Making America Great Again,” then in a script font: “One degree at a time.”



Ahead of Trump’s speech at Liberty’s 2017 commencement, Becki Falwell wrote an email to several high-ranking Liberty officials: “It’s great advertising for Liberty to be on products with Trumps name.” The school ended up printing and selling Trump t-shirts and hats. The shirts, in MAGA red with white type, read “TRUMP” in large block letters, with “Liberty University Commencement 2017” in a much smaller typeface. Another design, used on both hats and t-shirts, borrowed Trump’s campaign slogan and signature style: an all-caps “Making America Great Again,” then in a script font: “One degree at a time.” | Obtained by Brandon Ambrosino

Ahead of Trump’s speech at Liberty’s 2017 commencement, Becki Falwell wrote an email to several high-ranking Liberty officials: “It’s great advertising for Liberty to be on products with Trumps name.” The school ended up printing and selling Trump t-shirts and hats. The shirts, in MAGA red with white type, read “TRUMP” in large block letters, with “Liberty University Commencement 2017” in a much smaller typeface. Another design, used on both hats and t-shirts, borrowed Trump’s campaign slogan and signature style: an all-caps “Making America Great Again,” then in a script font: “One degree at a time.” | Obtained by Brandon Ambrosino

“Liberty University actually benefited by having President Donald Trump speak at commencement and by associating his brand with the University’s brand,” Jerry Falwell said in a statement, expressing his disappointment that the emails were shared. “Because Donald Trump is conservative, there is a benefit for a conservative Christian school to be associated with him, so long as the association does not cross the legal line set by the federal government.”



Told about the merchandise, experts suggested that the Trump-Liberty T-shirts might cross that line. “A 501(c)(3) organization cannot be selling those shirts or gifting space to someone selling t-shirts with a candidate’s name on it, since that is advertising for a candidate,” Borenstein said.





Ever since Falwell endorsed Trump ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucuses, political pundits have speculated that Trump was simply using Falwell to achieve his own political ends. That might be true: From his regular appearances at evangelical events to his claim that he single-handedly brought back the phrase “Merry Christmas,” Trump seems to be keen on shoring up his evangelical base. What better way to do that than to cultivate a very public relationship with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr.’s son?



But multiple associates of Jerry Falwell Jr. said the popular narrative is backward: It’s not Trump who has the most to gain from the relationship, it’s Falwell. Trump just went along with the arrangement.



Falwell has become known as a Trump loyalist who is willing to put his—and his school’s—reputation on the line to defend the president from any critic. In Trump, Falwell said in 2017, “evangelicals have found their dream president.” When asked by the Washington Post late in 2018 if there were “anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders,” Falwell said “No.” In a May 2019 tweet about the Mueller investigation, Falwell appropriated the language of reparations for descendants of slaves to argue Trump’s term should be lengthened: “I now support reparations. Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup.”



In Trump, Falwell has found the opportunity to secure his own status as one of America’s preeminent Christian political leaders—the chance to finally obtain the national relevance of his father. Now, Falwell is a national figure—a friend to a president, a man prone to outspoken statements that rile critics and endear him to supporters, a major leader on the religious right despite not being a pastor. He is closer than ever before to the kind of status the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. wielded.



But for those at Liberty who know both Falwell Jr. and his late father, there’s no comparing the men.



"Jerry’s daddy was a respectable, honest, decent, hardworking man,” said a longtime Liberty official who worked for both father and son. “Big Jerry hired people that were smart and capable and put them around himself. He made sure you knew you were appreciated. There was never an ego involved. You knew you were working for a higher calling. Jerry’s father was very generous and promoted all of us in an enlightening way.”



With Falwell Sr., "you could feel his passion and love for the Lord and others. He knew everyone’s names, their stories and struggles. He was genuine and loving. And that love bled from the campus,” a former longtime university official said. “It’s a cold place now.”



“With [Jerry’s] dad, there were never questions about his business dealings or whether he was profiting from a business deal,” said still another former longtime high-ranking Liberty official who worked closely with both men. “There was never a hint or suspicion of that because Falwell Sr. was only doing things that were for the benefit of the university or church—not for himself.”



The feeling is different with Junior in charge.



One source pointed to a tweet Jerry Falwell Jr. sent out in June 2019 criticizing David Platt, an evangelical Virginia pastor who apologized for welcoming Trump to his church. “I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God,” Platt said. “Sorry to be crude,” wrote Falwell in a since-deleted tweet, “but pastors like [David Platt] need to grow a pair.”



After Falwell came under criticism for his tweet about Platt, he responded to critics with a two-part Twitter thread, which, in the words of one current high-ranking Liberty official, “a lot of people found troubling.”



“I have never been a minister,” Falwell tweeted. “UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 yrs. Univ president for last 12 years-student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6B new construction in those 12 years. The faculty, students and campus pastor @davidnasser of @LibertyU are the ones who keep LU strong spiritually as the best Christian univ in the world. While I am proud to be a conservative Christian, my job is to keep LU successful academically, financially and in athletics.”



To those who worked for Liberty under the late Rev. Falwell, the sentiment appeared to signal a serious departure from his father’s legacy. “Bragging about business success and washing his hands of any responsibility for spiritual life at the university—that was frankly a pretty Trumpian line of commentary,” said one former university official with longstanding ties to both Liberty and the Falwell family.



Under Falwell Jr., Liberty University is “a totally dysfunctional organization,” one board member wrote in an email reviewed for this article. “Very similar to Trump’s White House.”



‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence - POLITICO Magazine