Jerry Falwell Jr., the disgraced former president of ultraconservative Liberty University, said former President Donald Trump once offered him the position of Education Secretary, but that he turned it down, Vanity Fair reported Tuesday.
The post, which eventually went to billionaire Betsy DeVos, was allegedly meant to show thanks for Falwell’s support of Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
Falwell told Vanity Fair writer Gabriel Sherman that Trump pitched the idea at Trump Tower, surrounded by his daughter Ivanka Trump and former adviser Steve Bannon.
“Ivanka was like, ‘Come on, dude. You gotta do it,’ ” he told Sherman.
The lengthy profile painted Falwell as a loosely devout Christian who did not follow Liberty’s strict no-alcohol policy. With nearly 50,000 students, Liberty is the largest Christian university in the world.
Falwell, whose pastor father founded the school, said he declined Trump’s offer due to the significant pay cut that would have come with it. He was reportedly making an $800,000 salary ― with perks that included a private jet ― as president of the Lynchburg, Virginia, school until he was forced to resign in late August 2020 under a cloud of scandal.
At the time, reports had surfaced that Falwell’s wife, Becki, had a seven-year affair with a Miami “pool boy,” Giancarlo Granda, that began when he was 20 years old. Granda alleged that Falwell liked to watch him have sex with Becki, a charge Falwell denies. He told Vanity Fair that he began lifting weights and taking testosterone supplements during the affair in an attempt to woo his wife, and blamed the supplements for making him more “combative.”
Falwell primarily blamed his downfall, however, on his support for the former president. He was one of the first evangelical leaders to endorse Trump over rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2016, and defended him repeatedly over Trump’s rocky four years in office.
“Trump was the reason they came after me as hard as they did,” Falwell told Vanity Fair.
On-campus support for his tenure at Liberty faded as his public behavior became increasingly bizarre and offensive. Students, faculty and alumni signed an open letter criticizing a tweet Falwell posted with an image depicting a person in blackface and another in a KKK hood, sent just as racial justice protests had exploded around the country in June 2020. He later apologized.
Three weeks before stepping down as Liberty’s president, Falwell posted another strange image, this time to Instagram. A photo from what was later revealed to be a yacht party showed the evangelical Christian leader with his pants unzipped and his arm wrapped around a pregnant woman, whose shorts were unzipped to reveal more of her stomach.