Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is standing by Donald Trump in the aftermath of a lewd recording from 2005 that surfaced Friday in which the Republican presidential nominee bragged about using his fame to prey on women.
Falwell, president of the largest evangelical university in the country, referred to Trump’s conversation recorded on a hot microphone as “somebody bragging in a locker room-type environment about something they never did,” echoing the candidate’s description of the conversation.
In a telephone interview Monday, Falwell also said he believes Republican leaders purposely leaked the recording and are trying to sabotage Trump’s candidacy in the run-up to Election Day.
In the recording reported by The Washington Post, Trump is speaking with Billy Bush, then of “Access Hollywood,” and describes forcibly kissing and groping women as well as hitting on a married woman.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says in the recording. “You can do anything.”
Moments later, he adds, “Grab them by the p----. You can do anything.”
Falwell believes Trump has changed since becoming a candidate, and everyone is “redeemable.”
“It was reprehensible. It was not defensible, and I was offended as the father of a 16-year-old daughter,” Falwell said.
When asked whether he had ever been in a locker room in which people described sexual assault in the manner Trump did, Falwell said he would say no more about the recording.
Since he personally endorsed and actively campaigned for Trump during primary season, Falwell has said Trump’s policy positions and commitment to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices outweigh his temperament and transgressions.
On Monday, he repeated what he’s said previously, that the country isn’t electing a pastor, and “every single one of us are sinners.”
“You have to look at actions, not words,” Falwell said Monday. “... All I know is when Trump was asked in the debate last night if he had ever assaulted a woman, he said no.”
Falwell turned the attack on Democrats Bill and Hillary Clinton, saying the former president committed sexual assault, and his wife and now-Democratic presidential nominee defended him.
The Democratic presidential nominee is disingenuous in saying women deserve to be believed when they report sexual assault, but “none of the women her husband assaulted were believed, not by Hillary,” Falwell said. “Instead, she brutalized them.”
As the news broke Friday afternoon, some Republicans, including Virginia’s 10th Congressional District Rep. Barbara Comstock — who faces a Democratic challenger in LuAnne Bennett — called for Trump to resign, according to The Washington Post. Some Republicans withdrew their endorsements.
Others, including state Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, who faces Democrat Jane Dittmar in the 5th Congressional District, condemned the words but not the man.
Republican House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who faces Democratic challenger Kai Degner in the 6th Congressional District, took a similar approach in a statement through a campaign spokesman to The News & Advance on Monday. Goodlatte is running on his conservative message and will “not be drawn into the circus that the national media is making of this presidential race,” the statement said.
“Mr. Trump’s comments are reprehensible and rightly deserve to be condemned. All women should be treated with respect, and his inappropriate comments are very disappointing to me. That said, I cannot support a Clinton presidency and the disastrous policies that would be enacted as a result,” the statement said.
After learning of the statement sent to Shenandoah Valley newspapers over the weekend, Degner, a Harrisonburg City Councilman, attacked Goodlatte for not denouncing Trump.
“As usual, Bob Goodlatte follows his party’s establishment leaders before giving a response — even regarding sexual assault against women. I wish we had a congressman who would lead on standing up for women, not wait for permission from Paul Ryan to issue a weak two-sentence statement,” Degner’s statement said.
Falwell remained silent until after the debate Sunday night. He released a tweet saying he was “proud” of Trump and claimed victory for the nominee. On Monday, he said in a telephone interview he had been on a trip with his wife and 16-year-old daughter over the weekend and had promised not to work.
At about midnight, Falwell recorded an interview with WABC Radio New York City in which he said he believes top Republicans released the recording to destroy Trump and give them a way out from supporting him.
“I was told six weeks ago they had a plan that would guarantee that Trump wouldn’t be the nominee on Nov. 8. Then to watch it unfold this weekend, I have to admit it looked a little fishy to me,” Falwell said. “... I just think they’ve never gotten over the bitterness and just their disappointment that one of them didn’t get the nomination.”
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, will speak at Liberty University’s convocation Wednesday as scheduled, Falwell said, with the public invited to attend.
The thrice-weekly event is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Vines Center and is open to the public for free. Liberty has arranged for additional bleacher seating with the expectation many community members will attend, according to an email from Liberty communications staff.