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DeSantis says Florida GOP Chair Ziegler should resign amid sexual assault complaint

A man gestures behind a podium that says Florida GOP.
Phelan M. Ebenhack
/
AP
Florida Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday called for the resignation of Florida Republican Party Chairman Christian Ziegler, who is under criminal investigation after he was accused of sexual assault.

As first reported by the Florida Center for Government Accountability in its Florida Trident publication, a woman filed a complaint with the Sarasota Police Department on Oct. 4, accusing Ziegler of rape.

DeSantis addressed what he called "very serious" charges during a Thursday news conference following his debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom in Georgia.

"I don't see how he can continue with that investigation ongoing given the gravity of those situations," DeSantis told reporters. "And so I think he should step aside, I think he should tend to that. He's innocent until proven guilty, but we just can't have a party chair that is under that type of scrutiny."

According to the Florida Trident, which cited a redacted police report, the woman said she was involved in a "longstanding three-way consensual relationship" with Ziegler and his wife, Moms of Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler.

Citing unnamed sources close to the investigation, the Florida Trident reported that the incident under investigation occurred while Christian Ziegler was alone at the woman's house.

The Florida Trident also cited unnamed sources alleging Christian Ziegler secretly video recorded the sexual encounters involving the couple and the woman.

In a statement, Christian Ziegler's lawyer, Derek Byrd, said his client has been "fully cooperative" with the Sarasota Police Department.

“Unfortunately, public figures are often accused of acts that they did not commit whether it be for political purposes or financial gain," Byrd said. "I would caution anyone to rush to judgment until the investigation is concluded.”

Ziegler took over as head of Florida's Republican party in February, three months after DeSantis won a landslide reelection over former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Bridget Ziegler is a member of the Sarasota County School Board and is co-founder of Moms For Liberty, a conservative group that has received national attention for promoting an agenda for public schools on issues including civil and LGBTQ rights, and teaching about the experience of marginalized communities.

Bridget Ziegler was appointed by DeSantis to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a state-created board to oversee development on Disney World property.

DeSantis stripped Disney World of its ability to self-govern and created the board amid a feud that began when the entertainment company opposed his effort to ban instruction on LGBTQ topics to primary grade students public schools.

"I hope the charges aren't true," DeSantis said. "I've known him [Christian], I've known Bridget, they've been friends. But the mission is more important."

Information from the Florida Center for Government Accountability and the Associated Press were used in this report.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Carl Lisciandrello is digital news editor of WUSF Public Media.
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