WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Months earlier than evangelical chief Jerry Falwell Jr.’s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell requested Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a private favor, Cohen mentioned in a recorded dialog reviewed by Reuters.
FILE PHOTO: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s private lawyer Michael Cohen stands behind Trump as a gaggle of supporters lay arms on Trump in prayer throughout a marketing campaign cease on the New Spirit Revival Center church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
Falwell, president of Liberty University, one of many world’s largest Christian universities, mentioned somebody had come into possession of what Cohen described as racy “personal” pictures — the type that may sometimes be stored “between husband and wife,” Cohen mentioned within the taped dialog.
According to a supply conversant in Cohen’s considering, the one that possessed the photos destroyed them after Cohen intervened on the Falwells’ behalf.
The Falwells, via a lawyer, declined to remark for this text.
Cohen, who started a three-year jail sentence this week for federal marketing campaign violations and mendacity to Congress, recounted his involvement within the matter in a recording made surreptitiously by comic Tom Arnold on March 25. Portions of the recording — by which Cohen appeared to disavow elements of his responsible plea — had been first reported April 24 by The Wall Street Journal.
The Falwells enlisted Cohen’s assist in 2015, in response to the supply conversant in Cohen’s considering, the 12 months Trump introduced his presidential candidacy. At the time, Cohen was Trump’s confidant and private lawyer, and he labored for the Trump Organization.
The Falwells needed to maintain “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from changing into public, Cohen advised Arnold. “I actually have one of the photos,” he mentioned, with out going into specifics. “It’s terrible.”
Cohen would later show profitable in one other matter involving Falwell, two individuals conversant in the matter advised Reuters. Cohen helped persuade Falwell to situation his endorsement of Trump’s presidential candidacy at a essential second, they mentioned: simply earlier than the Iowa caucuses. Falwell subsequently barnstormed with Trump and vouched for the candidate’s Christian virtues.
Reuters has no proof that Falwell’s endorsement of Trump was associated to Cohen’s involvement within the picture matter. The supply conversant in Cohen’s considering insisted the endorsement and the assistance with the pictures had been separate points.
Cohen’s connection to the Falwells sheds gentle on the formidable alliance between Trump and a person who, via his college, is among the most influential evangelical figures in America. Falwell’s backing helped impress evangelicals and persuaded many Christians involved about Trump’s previous conduct to embrace him as a repentant sinner.
Falwell’s help for Trump has not wavered all through the New York celebrity-politician’s personal tribulations, together with the Access Hollywood recording of Trump speaking about grabbing girls’s genitals and payoffs made by Cohen to cover Trump’s extramarital affairs. This previous weekend, Falwell tweeted that “Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term” to make up for the 2 years of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference within the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Falwell’s endorsement of Trump, nonetheless, did shock some college students and workers at Liberty University, the college in Lynchburg, Virginia, based by Falwell’s father, Jerry. It was at Liberty the place fellow Republican presidential candidate and main Trump rival Ted Cruz had chosen to launch his marketing campaign the earlier 12 months. Cruz’s father was an evangelical preacher, very like Falwell’s father; Trump has been married thrice and divorced twice. For years, previous to operating for president, Trump boasted of his sexual exploits and supported a bunch of social positions, corresponding to abortion rights, that run counter to beliefs espoused by Falwell.
Although Falwell declined interview requests for this story, he has mentioned repeatedly that he endorsed Trump as a result of Trump was the strongest candidate, had important expertise operating a enterprise, and had the appropriate imaginative and prescient for the nation.
The connection between Trump and Falwell goes again years. In 2012, Trump gave the convocation at Liberty University. One hyperlink between Trump and the couple seems to have been Cohen, a now-disbarred New York lawyer who shaped a detailed bond with the Falwells.
During the marketing campaign, Cohen labored carefully with Liberty University to assist promote Trump’s candidacy. It was round that point that Cohen heard from the Falwells in regards to the pictures, mentioned the supply conversant in Cohen’s considering.
The Falwells advised Cohen that somebody had obtained pictures that had been embarrassing to them, and was demanding cash, the supply mentioned. Reuters was unable to find out who made the demand. The supply mentioned Cohen flew to Florida and shortly met with an lawyer for the individual with the pictures. Cohen spoke with the lawyer, telling the lawyer that his shopper was committing a criminal offense, and that regulation enforcement authorities could be known as if the calls for didn’t cease, the supply mentioned.
The matter was quickly resolved, the supply mentioned, and the lawyer advised Cohen that the entire pictures had been destroyed.
Months later, in early 2016, Trump confronted what appeared like an unlimited problem. The Iowa caucus was arising, and Cohen — then deeply loyal to Trump — was involved about how Trump would fare, the supply mentioned. Cohen felt Trump “was being slaughtered in that community,” and “didn’t want to see him embarrassed or, you know, without support,” mentioned the supply conversant in Cohen’s considering. Cohen repeatedly reached out to Jerry Falwell, and pleaded with him to again Trump, the supply mentioned.
Soon after, in response to this account, Falwell made his historic announcement. “I am proud to offer my endorsement of Donald J. Trump for President of the United States,” Falwell was quoted saying in a press release issued by the Trump marketing campaign. “He is a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
Reporting by Aram Roston. Edited by Blake Morrison.