Florida’s Republican Party faced turmoil on Thursday as news broke that the police were investigating an accusation of sexual battery made against the party’s chairman, Christian Ziegler. Elected to the position earlier this year, Ziegler has been a focal point in the internal debate among top Florida Republicans over whether to support Governor Ron DeSantis or former President Donald J. Trump for the party’s 2024 nomination, with Ziegler being perceived as the choice of Trump’s allies.
As of now, no charges have been filed against Ziegler, who vehemently denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer, Derek Byrd. Byrd expressed confidence that Ziegler would be exonerated, stating, “We are confident that once the police investigation is concluded, that no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated.”
Details surrounding the accusation remain scant, with an active investigation confirmed by the Police Department in Sarasota. In response to requests for the incident report, the police released a heavily redacted document from October 4, with names, addresses, and identifying information blacked out. The 12-page report included two mentions of the word “raped” and a reference to someone reporting being “sexually battered” at home on October 2.
Ziegler, a former Sarasota County commissioner, resides in Sarasota and, according to his lawyer, has been fully cooperative with the police.
The Republican Party of Sarasota County issued a statement expressing shock and disappointment regarding the reports on Ziegler. The statement emphasized the party’s commitment to taking all allegations of potential criminal conduct seriously and pledged full cooperation with investigators.
Governor Ron DeSantis, speaking after his debate on Fox News with California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday night, called for Ziegler’s resignation. Emphasizing the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, DeSantis highlighted the challenges of having a party chair under such scrutiny.
The Florida Democratic Party also called for Ziegler’s resignation as GOP chairman. Nikki Fried, the Democratic Party chairwoman, remarked, “Christian Ziegler can’t possibly continue to lead the Florida G.O.P. under these conditions.”
The investigation was initially reported by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization.
Christian Ziegler’s wife, Bridget Ziegler, holds an elected position on the Sarasota County School Board and is a founder of the right-wing national group Moms for Liberty. The Zieglers, recognized as a powerful political couple in Florida, have played a prominent role in conservative activism in the Sarasota area, which has become a stronghold of such activity since the end of the Trump administration. Moms for Liberty collaborated closely with Governor DeSantis last year.
Florida, once a hotly contested swing state, has shifted to vote more reliably Republican in recent years. The unfolding investigation adds a layer of complexity to the internal dynamics of the state’s Republican Party, potentially influencing its trajectory as key figures navigate the allegations against Ziegler.