Politics: The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen - PressFrom - US
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PoliticsThe Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen

01:20  19 june  2019
01:20  19 june  2019 Source:   nytimes.com

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Buzzfeed News had previously reported on a lawsuit that claimed the evangelical leader and his wife had developed a “friendly relationship” in 2012 A source close to Falwell told Buzzfeed News he was “sure” Falwell had discussed the Granda case with former Trump attorney Michael Cohen , who was

If you had "now-jailed Trump lawyer Michael Cohen recorded telling comedian Tom Arnold he helped Trump-supporting evangelical leader and Liberty University The Falwells wanted to keep “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public, Cohen told Arnold. “I actually have one of

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© John Moore/Getty Images Mr. Falwell addressed the Republican National Convention in 2016 and has advised the Trump administration on policy.

MIAMI BEACH — Senator Ted Cruz was running neck and neck with Donald J. Trump in Iowa just before the caucuses in 2016, but his campaign was expecting a last-minute boost from a powerful endorser, Jerry Falwell Jr.

Mr. Falwell was chancellor of one of the nation’s largest Christian colleges, Liberty University, and a son of the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the televangelist and co-founder of the modern religious right.

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With Racy Photos, Leading To Pool Boy Speculation. Falwell asked for Cohen ’s help in destroying the photographs, and after Cohen “intervened,” per the Cohen has testified before Congress that he had arranged hush money payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with President Trump.

Cohen , who began a three-year prison sentence this week for federal campaign violations and lying to Congress, recounted his involvement in the matter Falwell’s backing helped galvanize evangelicals and persuaded many Christians concerned about Trump’s past behavior to embrace him as a

Months earlier, Mr. Falwell had provided Liberty’s basketball arena for Mr. Cruz’s formal presidential announcement and required that the student body attend, giving the Texas Republican a guaranteed audience of thousands of cheering young religious conservatives.

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With the caucuses now fast approaching, the senator’s father, Rafael Cruz, an evangelical pastor who had taken the lead in wooing Mr. Falwell, alerted the campaign that Mr. Falwell had pledged to endorse his son.

But when the time came for an announcement, Mr. Falwell rocked the Cruz campaign and grabbed the attention of the entire political world. He endorsed Mr. Trump instead, becoming one of the first major evangelical leaders to get behind the thrice-married, insult-hurling real estate mogul’s long-odds presidential bid.

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Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly told his friend, comedian Tom Arnold, that he helped Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr The evangelical Christian Trump backer, an acquaintance of Michael Cohen ’s, helped a hotel pool attendant in a business after befriending him

Then the Evangelical Leader Went to Bat for Trump. Cohen , who reported to prison earlier this week to serve a three-year sentence for federal campaign violations and lying to Congress, told comedian Tom Arnold, who surreptitiously recorded the conversation on March 25, that he had

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images The Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, where the Falwells befriended a pool attendant.

Mr. Falwell — who is not a minister and spent years as a lawyer and real estate developer — said his endorsement was based on Mr. Trump’s business experience and leadership qualities. A person close to Mr. Falwell said he made his decision after “consultation with other individuals whose opinions he respects.” But a far more complicated narrative is emerging about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the months before that important endorsement.

That backstory, in true Trump-tabloid fashion, features the friendship between Mr. Falwell, his wife and a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach; the family’s investment in a gay-friendly youth hostel; purported sexually revealing photographs involving the Falwells; and an attempted hush-money arrangement engineered by the president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.

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The revelations have arisen from a lawsuit filed against the Falwells in Florida; the investigation into Mr. Cohen by federal prosecutors in New York; and the gonzo-style tactics of the comedian and actor Tom Arnold.

Over the last two years, Mr. Arnold has fashioned himself an anti-Trump sleuth and crusader, working to dig up evidence of past malfeasance on television and in social media. In that role, Mr. Arnold befriended Mr. Cohen — who had lately become a vivid, if not entirely reliable, narrator of the Trump phenomenon — and then surreptitiously recorded him describing his effort to buy and bury embarrassing photographs involving the Falwells.

That attempt, Mr. Cohen says on the recording, came months before he brought Mr. Falwell “to the table” for Mr. Trump. Until then, he adds, “none of the evangelicals wanted to support Trump.”

There is no evidence that Mr. Falwell’s endorsement was part of a quid pro quo arranged by Mr. Cohen. Indeed, the relationship, if any, between the endorsement and the photo episode remains unclear. But the new details — some of which have been reported by news outlets including BuzzFeed and Reuters over the last year — show how deeply Mr. Falwell was enmeshed in Mr. Cohen’s and Mr. Trump’s world.

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Michael Cohen 's family includes his wife and daughter Samantha, whose photo in lingerie he shared. Both Cohen and his brother, Bryan, have ties to Ukraine. Michael Cohen , the former personal lawyer of President Donald Trump, is married with a daughter and son, who both attended his sentencing.

Cohen ’s sentence is a major break in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the The closest thing to a connection between the Michael Cohen endorsement story and the hostel lawsuit Apparently, Trump met Granda — the former pool boy turned Falwell business partner

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© Angel Valentin for The New York Times The Miami Hostel offers beds for as little as $15 a night, bunking 12 people to a room.

And they add another layer to one of the enduring curiosities of the Trump era: the support the president has received from evangelical Christians, who have traditionally demanded that their political leaders exhibit “family values” and moral “character.” Mr. Falwell’s father forged those words into weapons against the Democrats after he co-founded the Moral Majority political movement, which propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House and made religious conservatives a vital constituency for any Republican who would be president.

By the time Republicans cast their first votes in 2016, Mr. Trump was starting to show surprising strength among some white evangelicals. But with Mr. Falwell serving as the torchbearer of his father’s legacy, his endorsement became a permission slip for deeply religious conservatives who were attracted by Mr. Trump’s promises to make America great again but wary of his well-known history of infidelity, his previous support of abortion rights and his admission that he had never asked for God’s forgiveness.

“For those of the more fundamentalist variant of evangelicalism, the Falwell family, and the Falwell endorsements, are an important factor,” said Jim Guth, a political-science professor at Furman University who has long studied evangelical politics. Mr. Cruz still managed to win in Iowa. But Mr. Trump soon won South Carolina with strong evangelical support, sending him on a solid path toward the nomination.

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The comedian told NBC News on Friday that Cohen — who's under criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York on suspicion of Cohen declined to comment to NBC News. But he did tweet about his encounter with Arnold on Friday night, denying that he discussed Trump with the

Three years later, Mr. Falwell remains an unwavering Trump supporter. Last month he went so far as to suggest that the president deserved an extended term as “reparations” for time lost to the Mueller investigation. In turn, he has had entree to the White House, providing input on education policies that stand to benefit Liberty.

The Falwells declined to comment for this article. Mr. Falwell has said there were no compromising photographs, and the person close to them, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said the Falwells “did not know anything about Mr. Cohen’s alleged efforts” on their behalf. Mr. Falwell’s endorsement of Mr. Trump, the person said, was made after careful consideration. Mr. Cohen, he said, “did not try to exert any inappropriate pressure.”

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© Angel Valentin for The New York Times The Miami Hostel is known as one of the best budget party hostels in South Beach.

New Friendships, New Opportunities

Mr. Falwell began to grow close to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen after Mr. Trump came to speak at Liberty, in Lynchburg, Va, in 2012. Mr. Cohen, who was working to connect his boss with important political constituencies and their leaders for a possible presidential run four years later, came along for the trip.

Mr. Trump lacked the religious bona fides of those who typically filled the school’s speaker lineup. But he was the star of the top-rated “Apprentice” reality show, and Mr. Falwell admired his career in real estate.

As it happened, the Falwell family was exploring a real estate venture of its own.

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Earlier that year, Mr. Falwell and his wife, Becki, had stayed at the Fontainebleau — the grande dame of the Miami Beach hotel scene and a somewhat unlikely vacation spot for the chancellor of a university whose student code prohibited short skirts, coed dorm visits and sex outside of “biblically ordained” marriage.

Once a glamorous hangout for John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, the Fontainebleau was now the stomping grounds of the Kardashians, Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga, known for allowing topless sunbathing and for a cavernous nightclub that one travel guide described as “30,000 square feet of unadulterated fun.” Techno music was pumped out at its 11 pools, where waitresses in polka-dot swimsuits served drinks and white-uniformed male attendants brought fresh towels and positioned umbrellas for tips.

The Falwells struck up a conversation with one of those pool attendants, Giancarlo Granda. Mr. Granda, then 21 and the son of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, was working at the hotel while studying finance at Florida International University.

The Falwells, according to the person close to them, were impressed with Mr. Granda’s ambition. Soon he was hiking and water skiing with them in Virginia. Within months, they were offering to help him get started in business in Florida.

Unsure how to capitalize on the offer, Mr. Granda consulted a close high school friend, Jesus Fernandez Jr., whose father, Jesus Fernandez Sr., had worked in Miami real estate for decades, the Fernandezes would later assert. Together, they directed Mr. Granda to a South Beach youth hostel that was for sale. The building also housed a restaurant and a liquor store.

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© John Taggart for The New York Times Mr. Cohen, a longtime fixer for Mr. Trump, described an effort to buy and bury embarrassing photos involving the Falwells.

Mr. Falwell and his wife agreed to help finance the purchase after a meeting in Florida with Mr. Granda, the real estate agents, the younger Mr. Fernandez and his father — who was facing a $34 million bankruptcy. Negotiations were underway when Mr. Trump visited Liberty, and the Falwells invited Mr. Granda to fly up for the occasion. A photo taken on a private plane, reviewed by The New York Times, shows him holding a copy of “Trump: The Art of the Deal.”

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Mr. Falwell introduced Mr. Trump to Liberty’s students as “one of the greatest visionaries of our time,” who “single-handedly forced President Obama to release his birth certificate.” Mr. Trump shared his secrets to winning in business and life: “Get even” and “Always have a prenuptial agreement,” though he quickly added, “I won’t say it here, because you people don’t get divorced.”

Offstage, he posed for pictures with the Falwells and shook hands with their special guest, Mr. Granda.

No Politics or Religion

In 2013, the Falwells completed the deal for the Miami Hostel, which rents beds for as little as $15 a night, bunking 12 people to a room. The hostel became known as one of South Beach’s best budget party hostels and is sometimes listed as gay-friendly.

The Falwells’ involvement came to light in a 2017 Politico article by Brandon Ambrosino, a Liberty graduate. He reported that the hostel featured a sign on its front gate declaring its house rules: “No Soliciting, Fundraising, Politics, Salesmen, Religion.”

“Inside the Falwells’ hostel, the stench of general decay and cigarette smoke is overpowering,” Mr. Ambrosino wrote. Tourism pamphlets included one for Tootsie’s Cabaret, “74,000 square feet of adult entertainment and FULL NUDITY.”

On a recent overnight visit, the sign forbidding politics and religion was gone, and there were no visible fliers for adult clubs. The hostel was tidy and relatively quiet — common for this time of year, Miami’s off-season. A warning was posted that the hostel was not responsible for accidents on the premises, “especially if you are drunk.”

Real estate records show that an LLC called Alton Hostel Inc. bought the hostel and its building for $4.7 million in cash. Within weeks, Alton Hostel secured a $3.8 million mortgage from Carter Bank & Trust, the Virginia-based bank the Falwells had long used to finance and expand Liberty University. The source of Alton Hostel’s initial full-cash payment is not known. But Mr. Falwell would later say in a sworn affidavit that his family’s financial contribution to the deal amounted to a loan of $1.8 million, including $800,000 for renovations. The Falwells’ son Jerry Falwell III, who goes by “Trey” and was 23 at the time, was listed as manager of the LLC; Mr. Granda was added later as a co-manager. In his affidavit, Mr. Falwell said his wife was also a member of the LLC.

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© Tom Arnold The comedian and actor Tom Arnold, left, secretly recorded Mr. Cohen describing his plan to help the Falwells by paying off someone who claimed to have compromising photos.

Around South Beach, people involved in the deal regarded it as the sort of thing Miami’s young and good-looking could luck into when they encountered wealthy visitors.

“Miami is a very touristy place,” one of the brokers, Roberto Bracho, said in an interview. “If you are in the right place at the right time, you can hit the jackpot.”

The situation quickly deteriorated. The Fernandezes believed that they had been promised an ownership share. The Falwells denied making any such promise, and in his affidavit, Mr. Falwell sought to minimize his involvement, saying that, as an adviser on the deal, he could not have given them a stake.

The Fernandezes threatened a lawsuit.

Rigging Polls, Fixing Problems

Mr. Cohen had kept in close touch with the Falwells after Mr. Trump’s 2012 visit. He would later say he viewed them as family.

Mr. Cohen even turned to a Falwell lieutenant — Liberty’s deputy chief information officer at the time, John Gauger — as he worked to build Mr. Trump’s political profile. Mr. Gauger also ran his own consulting firm, RedFinch Solutions.

Mr. Cohen hired RedFinch to manipulate two online polls in Mr. Trump’s favor — one in 2014 by CNBC, and another in early 2015 in the Drudge Report — Mr. Gauger told The Wall Street Journal in January.

At around the same time, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump were arranging with The National Enquirer and its chief, the Trump ally David Pecker, to buy and bury stories about Mr. Trump and women that could harm his political prospects. Mr. Cohen’s confessed role in two such deals — one with The Enquirer to silence the former Playboy model Karen McDougal, the other with the pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, whom he initially paid out of his own pocket — contributed to the three-year sentence he is now serving at the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y.

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© Parker Michels-Boyce/The News & Advance, via Associated Press Speaking to Liberty students in 2012, Mr. Trump shared two pieces of advice he said he often gave: “Get even,” and “Always have a prenuptial agreement.”

By Mr. Cohen’s account, the Falwells appeared to be in need of just that sort of help.

By late 2015, the lawsuit over ownership of the hostel had devolved into a fight over compromising photos, according to several people involved in the case. It was understood that between Mr. Granda, the Fernandezes and their lawyers, one or more people were in possession of photographs that could be used as leverage against the Falwells.

And so Mr. Cohen tried to play the fixer for his friends.

In a recent legal filing, Mr. Fernandez Jr. said he was forced to change his name because of the case. He became Gordon Bello. His father, Mr. Fernandez, Sr., became Jett Bello. Their name changes took place after Mr. Cohen intervened.

Mr. Cohen described his involvement in his conversation with Mr. Arnold, which was first reported last month by Reuters.

“There’s a bunch of photographs, personal photographs, that somehow the guy ended up getting — whether it was off of Jerry’s phone or somehow maybe it got AirDropped or whatever the hell the whole thing was,” Mr. Cohen told Mr. Arnold in the recording, which Mr. Arnold shared with The Times. Mr. Cohen never identified “the guy.”

“These are photos between husband and wife,” Mr. Cohen added, joking that “the evangelicals are kinkier than Tom Arnold.” He explained, “I was going to pay him, and I was going to get the negatives and do an agreement where they turn over all the technology that has the photographs or anything like that, any copies.”

But the payoff “never happened,” he said, “and the guy just either deleted them on his own or what have you.”

The person close to the Falwells said that Mr. Cohen was neither their lawyer nor their fixer, and that they had not been aware of “his alleged actions regarding photographs” until parts of the recording were released.

The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen© Travis Dove for The New York Times Senator Ted Cruz announced his presidential run at Liberty University in 2015. His campaign was anticipating an endorsement from Mr. Falwell when the evangelical leader instead threw his support behind Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen, who declined interview requests, told Mr. Arnold that he had been trying to protect Mrs. Falwell. “Even though she has a very nice figure,” he said on the recording, “nobody wants their private photos published.” In the process, he said, he had obtained one of the photos, of Mrs. Falwell, and still had it.

Evangelicals for Trump

With a few weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses kicked off the primary season on Feb. 1, 2016, Mr. Cruz was steadily racking up high-level endorsements. He was banking on strong evangelical support to push him past Mr. Trump in the state.

In mid-January, Mr. Cruz’s father reported back to his staff that Mr. Falwell had committed to endorsing his son, according to two people involved in the campaign at the time. A news release was prepared, they said, while aides began vetting Mr. Falwell’s background, as is standard for presidential endorsers.

Signs that something was amiss came shortly afterward, when Mr. Trump arrived at Liberty for another speech. Mr. Falwell introduced Mr. Trump as a man who “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught.” Despite the generous introduction, the appearance seemed an unmitigated disaster for Mr. Trump. He betrayed his ignorance of the Bible by referring to a passage in “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians,” and loosely used the words “hell” and “damn.” Even so, rumors began to spread that Mr. Falwell was leaning toward Mr. Trump.

Rick Tyler, a senior Cruz adviser, called Mr. Falwell to say that if there was ever a good time to make his support official, this was it. That was when Mr. Falwell told him he had learned that he could not make any endorsement in the primaries. “He said his board wouldn’t allow him to endorse,” Mr. Tyler said in an interview.

Around that time, Mr. Falwell was coming under heavy pressure to get behind Mr. Trump, according to someone who spoke to Mr. Falwell then. A few days later, Mr. Falwell announced his endorsement of Mr. Trump, calling him “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

In an email, the person close to the Falwells said the Liberty chancellor had “never seriously considered endorsing Mr. Cruz,” and did not know how the campaign had gotten that impression. What’s more, he said, Mr. Cohen “did nothing more than ask” Mr. Falwell to endorse Mr. Trump.

Though Mr. Falwell said he was making the endorsement as a private individual, not as the head of the university, the decision roiled the Liberty community. Some graduates and students expressed stunned disappointment. One of Liberty’s trustees, Mark DeMoss — an alumnus and a longtime confidant of Mr. Falwell’s father — told The Washington Post that Mr. Trump did not exhibit “Christ-like behavior that Liberty has spent 40 years promoting with its students.” (After clashing with Mr. Falwell and other board members, he resigned, he said in a statement at the time.)

At the Cruz campaign headquarters, the reaction was “anger and shock,” Mr. Tyler said. “Something changed, obviously.”

An Adviser and Defender

The relationship between Mr. Falwell and Mr. Trump would prove mutually beneficial.

Mr. Trump sought to make Mr. Falwell his secretary of education, Mr. Falwell has said. After he declined, he disclosed that he would serve as an outside adviser to the administration on education policy — a role in which, Mr. Falwell indicated, he would call for rollbacks of regulations governing accreditation, recruitment and student borrowing. (“A lot of what we sent them is actually what got implemented,” he told The New York Times Magazine last year.)

Mr. Falwell, in turn, has remained one of the president’s most vocal defenders, even in the rare moments when other Republicans wouldn’t, as in August 2017, when Mr. Trump said there had been “very fine people on both sides” of the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in the murder of a young counterdemonstrator.

That month, with settlement talks involving the hostel at an impasse, the Fernandezes, now the Bellos, filed a written complaint. The complaint, first reported by BuzzFeed News several months after it was filed, asserted that “verbal offers were made to Granda to provide him with financial assistance.” Mr. Falwell, the complaint read, “indicated that he wanted to help Granda establish a new career and build a business” as the Falwells’ relationship with Mr. Granda “evolved.”

In his sworn affidavit, Mr. Falwell said the family had made Mr. Granda a co-manager of the LLC in return for serving as its local representative. Mr. Falwell saw the hostel as a good opportunity to introduce his son and Mr. Granda to real estate investing, according to the person close to the family. Mr. Granda, he said, received only a “modest income,” and a financial stake that was of limited value because of the property’s heavy debt.

The Comedian Gets His Tape

Mr. Arnold’s anti-Trump antics have largely consisted of his public search for more recordings like the “Access Hollywood” outtake in which Mr. Trump boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia. Last year, Mr. Arnold even got his own television show on the Viceland network, “The Hunt for The Trump Tapes.” It produced no new tapes during its eight-episode run.

But it did help lead to the recording of Mr. Cohen discussing the Falwells.

Mr. Arnold first met Mr. Cohen last June at the Loews Regency hotel in Manhattan, as Mr. Arnold was taping his show. Their meeting didn’t result in a Cohen appearance on the program, but Mr. Cohen agreed to a photo with Mr. Arnold, which went viral on Twitter, and the two stayed in touch.

Early this year, after noticing the articles in The Journal and BuzzFeed about Liberty, Mr. Cohen and the Fernandez suit, Mr. Arnold began suggesting on Twitter, without presenting any evidence, that the Falwells had been in a sexual relationship with Mr. Granda. Those tweets led Mr. Cohen to call Mr. Arnold and deny any such relationship. He then described his efforts to help with the photos.

That conversation, two months before Mr. Cohen went to prison, left more questions than answers. Mr. Cohen has publicly said nothing more. No photos have surfaced, and it is unclear how many there are. In all, three people said they had seen at least one photo, though their descriptions varied and could not be verified.

Nor is it certain whom Mr. Cohen hoped to pay off. He never mentions the Bellos — formerly the Fernandezes — or their lawsuit on the tape, but makes reference to the “pool boy,” leaving open the possibility that the photos came from Mr. Granda, and that Mr. Granda then shared them with the Bellos. Then again, “the guy” to whom Mr. Cohen refers could be some other person entirely.

Mr. Granda, now working toward a graduate degree in real estate at Georgetown University, referred questions to his lawyer. The lawyer, Aaron Resnick, said his client had never interacted with Mr. Cohen, whom he called “a convicted felon and admitted liar.” He said any suggestion that Mr. Granda was the person referred to on the tape would be false, and he bristled at what he called “tabloid fodder” directed at a first-generation Hispanic-American.

In a statement to The Times, the senior Bello said he and his son had been respectful to the Falwells, “despite the sensitive details surrounding this case.” It was Mr. Cohen — acting as their lawyer, he said — who had revealed “his client’s indiscretions.” He said the pending lawsuit prohibited him from offering more details about the photographs or why he and his son had felt compelled to change their names.

Mr. Falwell has granted only one interview about the Arnold recording, to Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio, telling him there were “no compromising or embarrassing photos,” and saying, “We never engaged or paid Cohen to represent us in any legal or other professional capacity.”

The new details about the lead-up to his endorsement of Mr. Trump have not affected Mr. Falwell’s continued enthusiastic support. Earlier this month, Mr. Falwell chastised a pastor who was embroiled in a controversy over his decision to pray for Mr. Trump during the president’s surprise visit to his church in the Washington suburbs.

Suggesting that the pastor was being too accommodating of critics, Mr. Falwell directed a tweet at him reading, “Grow a pair,” a crude reference to the pastor’s masculinity. After the post drew criticism on Twitter as being beneath a religious leader, Mr. Falwell responded that he did not need to adhere to strict religious standards.

“I have never been a minister,” he tweeted, saying that it was up to the students and faculty of Liberty to keep the school “strong spiritually.’’ He added, “While I am proud to be a conservative Christian, my job is to keep LU successful academically, financially and in athletics.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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