Lib­erty’s Fal­well says he’s tar­get of ‘at­tempted coup’

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Sarah Rankin and Alan Suderman

RICH­MOND, Va. — Lib­erty Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Jerry Fal­well Jr. said Tues­day that he is ask­ing the FBI to in­ves­ti­gate what he called a “crim­i­nal” smear cam­paign or­ches­trated against him by sev­eral dis­grun­tled for­mer board mem­bers and em­ploy­ees.

Fal­well told The As­so­ci­ated Press he has evidence that the group im­prop­erly shared emails be­long­ing to the univer­sity with re­porters in an at­tempt to dis­credit him. He said the “at­tempted coup” was par­tially mo­ti­vated by his ar­dent back­ing of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Fal­well, head of the nation’s most high-pro­file evan­gel­i­cal col­lege, was among the ear­li­est Chris­tian con­ser­va­tives to en­dorse Trump’s cam­paign.

His al­le­ga­tions come af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of a story in Politico Mag­a­zine on Mon­day that al­leged Fal­well “pre­sides over a cul­ture of self-deal­ing” at Lib­erty that has im­prop­erly ben­e­fited him and his fam­ily. The story cited un­named sources de­scribed as cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials or Fal­well as­so­ci­ates.

“I’m not go­ing to dig­nify the lies that were re­ported yes­ter­day with a re­sponse, but I am go­ing to the au­thor­i­ties and I am go­ing to civil court,” Fal­well said, re­fer­ring to the re­porter as a “lit­tle boy.”

He added that Lib­erty has hired “the mean­est lawyer in New York,” whom he de­clined to iden­tify, to pur­sue civil cases. Fal­well also de­clined to iden­tify the peo­ple he said were spread­ing the emails.

Fal­well is the son of the late evan­ge­list, Lib­erty founder and Moral Ma­jor­ity leader the Rev. Jerry Fal­well. Fal­well Jr. has come un­der in­creased scru­tiny re­cently over his per­sonal life and busi­ness in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing his in­volve­ment in a Mi­ami hos­tel.

The Hill first re­ported on Tues­day that Fal­well had re­quested an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Fal­well said he con­tacted the FBI last week af­ter he learned that re­porters were reach­ing out to Lib­erty em­ploy­ees about the emails he in­sists were stolen.

“Lib­erty owns ev­ery sin­gle one of those emails. It’s our prop­erty. They were work­ing for us when they used our server. And our poli­cies make it clear ev­ery email sent on our server is owned by Lib­erty, and if any­body shares it with any­body out­side Lib­erty, it is theft. And so that’s the un­der­ly­ing crime,” Fal­well said.

An FBI spokes­woman de­clined com­ment.

Cy­ber­crime ex­pert Nick Ak­er­man said Fal­well’s as­ser­tion of a crim­i­nal con­spir­acy is “to­tally in­sane.” Ak­er­man said the ex-board mem­bers and em­ploy­ees can share emails with re­porters as long as they had au­tho­rized ac­cess to them and didn’t hack into some­one else’s ac­count. He said trade se­crets are also pro­tected un­der the law, but Lib­erty wouldn’t be able to make a case there ei­ther.

“I don’t think any law en­force­ment agency is go­ing to be in­ter­ested in this one,” said Ak­er­man, a part­ner at Dorsey & Whit­ney and for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor.

Lib­erty, based in Lynch­burg, Vir­ginia, was founded in 1971 by Fal­well’s fa­ther with just 154 stu­dents. It now boasts an en­roll­ment of more than 100,000, in­clud­ing those in its mas­sive on­line ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram. It has be­come an in­flu­en­tial hub of con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics, fre­quented by can­di­dates courting evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers .

Fal­well was an early and ar­dent Trump sup­porter, which cre­ated a rift on cam­pus dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and has sparked con­tro­versy since.

STEVE HEL­BER/AP 2017

Jerry Fal­well Jr. said the “at­tempted coup” was par­tially mo­ti­vated by his ar­dent back­ing of Pres­i­dent Trump.

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