Florida Republican leader calls an emergency meeting over chairman accused of rape

A leader of the Republican Party of Florida is calling for an emergency meeting to consider how to handle rape allegations that surfaced last week against the party’s chairman, Christian Ziegler, who has so far refused to resign amid increasing pressure and a police investigation.

“It is with a heavy heart I write this email to you,” wrote Florida GOP Vice Chairman Evan Power in an email sent to party leaders Monday night. “Over the last few days we have seen the news and have received calls from the press about the situation with our Chairman.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis is among Republican leaders who have called on Ziegler to resign, a list that also includes Florida House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, each of whom said Ziegler should step aside.

“I don’t see how we can continue with that investigation ongoing, given the gravity of those situations. I think he should step aside,” DeSantis said last week after a debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “I think he should tend to that.”

DeSantis is joined by both Florida Republican legislative leaders, an increasing number of rank-and-file members of the Legislature and former party officials.

“Electing Republicans goes beyond personalities. No one person should stand in the way of making sure Florida has the best chance to choose the next President,” former Florida GOP executive director Mike Grissom told NBC News. “Christian should step aside.”

Along with the presidential race, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott is up for re-election in 2024.

Scott told NBC News the allegations are “very disturbing.”

“I’m very concerned about the reports I’ve read. The allegations are very disturbing. Everyone deserves their day in court and Christian and Bridget have been friends of mine throughout my career,” Scott said. “The Party has a very important decision before it, and the decision has to be made on what is best for winning elections in 2024. I don’t see how Christian can continue to successfully act as Chairman while this cloud hovers over him. I’m praying for everyone involved in this.” 

At the center of the allegations, according to a search warrant affidavit first obtained by the nonpartisan Florida Center for Government Accountability and shared with NBC News, are that on Oct. 2, Christian and his wife, Bridget, planned to have a consensual sexual encounter with a woman they had known for 20 years.

The Sarasota Police Department has not confirmed or denied the authenticity of the affidavit, but it has been widely reported.

The police did release a heavily redacted 13-page report on the Ziegler investigation last week that includes mention of “rape” and “had been sexual battered … on 10/02/2023.”

The woman tried to cancel once Bridget decided not to come, but Christian Ziegler was seen on tape arriving at the alleged victim’s apartment, and he was “standing outside in the hallway” when she opened the door to walk her dog. 

Christian Ziegler, according to the search warrant affidavit, then entered her apartment and raped her on a bar stool. 

During the investigation Ziegler then contacted the woman on social media where she said she was “not okay” with what happened.

“Oh. That’s not good. You are my friend. Known ya for like twenty years now,” Ziegler replied. “Lol.” 

The woman continued to tell him that what he did was “not cool” and that she had “not been able to work since you came over.”

“I really can’t even talk to you right now,” she said, according to a summary of the conversation on social media in the affidavit.

Ziegler also called the victim multiple times; the calls were recorded. When she told him that he sexually assaulted her, Ziegler replied, “Those are big words, lease don’t, no I didn’t. You invited me in, that’s it.”

The investigation began with a call to police from a friend of the woman, who told police she was not showing up at work and there were concerns she had started using drugs and alcohol.

“She won’t answer anyone else at work except for me but she told me she was raped yesterday and that she is scared to leave her house,” the caller said, according to audio published by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, which has also not been confirmed by the Sarasota Police Department.

In an interview with investigators, Ziegler admitted to having sex with the alleged victim, but he said it was consensual. He also said he recorded the sexual encounter, but investigators have “not been able to locate” the recording.

Former Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who is running for Congress and also chairs the Lake County Republican Party, said the conservative couple should resign.

“He should resign based upon what has been admitted to by both him and his wife under oath in the affidavits,” Sabatini said. “The rape accusations has yet to be substantiated and is a separate issue.”

Bridget Ziegler is a well-known political figure in her own right. She is a nationally recognized school choice advocate who helped start Moms for Liberty, a group focused on getting conservative women elected to school boards. She is also a DeSantis-endorsed Sarasota County School Board member and was appointed by him to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which oversees much of the business operations of Walt Disney World. The creation of the board was championed by DeSantis amid a political fight with Disney.

Bridget Ziegler told detectives, according to the affidavit, that she had one sexual encounter with the victim and her husband over a year ago.

Christian Ziegler has denied wrongdoing and in his own defiant letter to party leaders over the weekend said he would not resign despite calls from DeSantis — who is functionally the head of the party — and others.

“We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” he wrote.

The emergency meeting sought by Power would include a “discussion and appropriate actions for censure or discipline” of Ziegler, according to the email he sent Monday. Punishment could include appointing a special investigative committee, suspension of Ziegler’s authority during the investigation, suspension of his pay and a formal vote of no confidence.

The proposed time for the meeting is Dec. 17 in Orlando.

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