The Sarasota Police Department is looking into a claim of sexual battery involving Florida GOP Chair Christian Ziegler, a stunning development in the political landscape of Florida, where former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis are prominent figures.
MM – Florida obtained documents from the Sarasota Police Department that refer to Ziegler, and the agency provided heavily censored reports from an officer who took the initial report and a detective. The records indicate that the case is an “active criminal investigation.”
The detective’s report says that the person reported being “sexually battered” at their residence in Sarasota on Oct. 2. The report repeats the terms “sexual assault allegation” and “sexual assault complaint” but does not give any other details.
The summary from the officer who responded is also largely obscured. Only five words are visible in the narrative. They are: “stated… raped… stated that… raped.”
Ziegler’s lawyer, Derek Byrd, said he is certain his client “will be completely exonerated” and said he has “fully cooperated with every request made by the Sarasota Police Department.”
“Regrettably, public figures are sometimes accused of deeds that they did not do for political or financial motives,” Byrd said. “I would urge anyone to refrain from making hasty judgments until the investigation is finished. Out of respect for the investigation, this is all Mr. Ziegler or I can say at this time.”
According to the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a government watchdog group, Christian Ziegler, the chairman of the Florida GOP, is under investigation for sexual battery. The group reported that police confiscated Ziegler’s cell phone and are conducting a forensic analysis of the device.
Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota County School Board member and the founder of Moms for Liberty, have risen to prominence as a political couple in the state. Christian Ziegler, a former Sarasota County Commissioner and the current GOP State Committeeman for Sarasota County, became the leader of the Florida GOP in February after years of grassroots GOP activism.
The group cited anonymous sources close to the investigation who said that the woman who accused Christian Ziegler of sexual battery claimed that she had a consensual three-way sexual relationship with both Zieglers before the incident. The sources said that the incident happened when Christian Ziegler and the woman were alone at her house.
The allegations could have a significant impact on the Florida political scene, creating chaos for the Florida GOP as the party prepares for the 2024 election.
The Republican Party of Sarasota County, where the Zieglers have been active for years, issued a statement expressing its shock and disappointment over the reports. The statement said that the party takes any allegations of potential criminal conduct very seriously and will cooperate fully with the investigators.
Ziegler’s position is particularly important because the two leading GOP figures in the country, Trump and DeSantis, are both from Florida and involved in the state party.
A legal investigation into Ziegler could hinder the Florida GOP’s efforts to get ready for an election where Florida could be a key presidential battleground, and where there is also a competitive U.S. Senate race.
The Florida GOP has been doing well after DeSantis’ decisive re-election victory last year. The party’s voter registration has surpassed that of the Democrats.
A sexual scandal involving one of the party’s top figures could be a major distraction and damage its image at a time when the GOP has promoted culturally conservative policies based on moral values.
Bridget Ziegler has been at the forefront of that movement through her work with Moms for Liberty, which she has since left, and in implementing DeSantis’ education agenda, which has focused on LGBTQ and racial issues.
Bridget Ziegler was with DeSantis when he signed legislation that critics called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and was appointed by the governor to serve on a board that governs a special district that oversees Disney’s properties in Central Florida. Disney and DeSantis have clashed over the company’s reaction to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Representatives for the governor’s office and campaign did not reply to a request for comment.
The conservative group Moms for Liberty issued a statement in support of Bridget Ziegler, who is facing allegations of sexual misconduct along with her husband, Christian Ziegler, the vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
The group, which posted on X, claimed that the accusations were part of a smear campaign against “a strong woman fighting for America.”
Meanwhile, Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried demanded that Christian Ziegler resign from his position and criticized both him and his wife for their hypocrisy.
“The Zieglers, as leaders in the Florida GOP and Moms for Liberty, have repeatedly attacked anything that contradicts their narrow view of ‘family values’ — whether it is reproductive rights or the rights of LGBTQ+ Floridians,” Fried said. “Their hypocrisy in this situation is astounding.”
The Republican Party of Florida declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Lee County GOP Chair Michael Thompson expressed his disbelief in the allegations and his support for Ziegler as the party vice chair.
“Unless the allegations are proven true, I don’t think Ziegler should resign as vice chair. I’m confident that he will remain in his role until something else happens. We don’t expect Ziegler to leave as vice chair,” Thompson said.
Thompson added that he spoke to two other party chairs who shared his opinion.
“We need to uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty. That’s what our justice system should be based on, and that applies to everyone, not just Trump, not just Ziegler. Let’s not rush to judgment based on headlines. Let’s wait for the evidence.”
Some have wondered if Ed Brodsky, the Republican state attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit covering Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties, would step aside if the case against Ziegler progressed.
Brodsky said Thursday that he did not see any current conflict that would necessitate his recusal. He said he knew Ziegler professionally but they did not have a personal relationship.
“I don’t see any existing conflict that prevents me from doing my duty, but we have not received or reviewed any official charges yet. We will reevaluate and make the appropriate decision if and when we do,” Brodsky said.
This story is still developing. Please check back for more updates.