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 many disgruntled former board members and workers.
Falwell told The Associated Press he has evidence that the group improperly shared emails belonging to the college with reporters in an effort to discredit him. He explained the “attempted coup” was partly motivated by his passionate backing of President Donald Trump.
Falwell, head of the country’s most high-profile evangelical faculty, was among the first Christian conservatives to endorse Trump’s campaign.
His allegations come after the publication of a narrative in Politico Magazine on Monday that alleged Falwell “presides over a culture of self-dealing” in Liberty that has benefited him and his loved ones. The story cited unnamed sources called former and current 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, speaking 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 dispersing the emails.
Falwell is the son of the late evangelist, Liberty founder and Moral Majority leader the Rev. Jerry Falwell. He’s come under increased scrutiny recently over his private life and business investments, including his participation in a Miami hostel.
The Hill first reported on Tuesday that Falwell had asked an FBI investigation.
Falwell said he contacted the FBI last week after he discovered 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 told AP in a telephone interview.
An FBI spokeswoman declined comment.
Cybercrime expert Nick Akerman said Falwell’s assertion of a criminal conspiracy is “totally insane.” Akerman stated the ex-board members and employees can share emails with coworkers provided that they had legal access to them and did not hack into someone else’s account. He said trade secrets are also protected under the legislation, but Liberty would not have the ability to make a case that there .
“I don’t think any law enforcement agency is going to be interested in this one,” stated Akerman, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and former federal prosecutor.
Liberty, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, was founded in 1971 by Falwell’s daddy with only 154 students. It now boasts an enrollment of over 100,000, including those in its gigantic online education program. It has grown into an influential hub of conservative politics, frequented by applicants courting evangelical voters.
Falwell was an early and ardent Trump supporter, which created a rift on campus during the presidential campaign, and it has sparked controversy because.