Details of sexual-assault accusation against Florida GOP chair Add to turmoil at party

Details of sexual assault allegations against Florida’s Republican Party chairman in a statement by state officials are fueling turmoil within the party.

The affidavit states that the woman says that Chairman Christian Ziegler assaulted her in her apartment in October. It was filed in a Florida court as part of a request for an order seeking access to electronic communications and recordings on Mr. Ziegler.

A spokeswoman for the Sarasota, Fla., police department confirmed Thursday that there was an “active investigation” involving Mr. Ziegler. No charges have been filed against him, and he has denied wrongdoing through his attorney, Derek Byrd, who did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. In an earlier statement, he said that “we are confident that, once the police investigation is complete, no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be fully exonerated.”

In the affidavit, a written statement given under oath, the officer said the woman and Mr. Ziegler had known each other for 20 years and that she told police she consented to sexual intercourse on October 2 with Mr. Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, an elected member of the Sarasota County School Board and founder of the right-wing national group Moms for Liberty. (She is no longer one of the officers of the organization.)

Ms. Ziegler said in an interview with authorities that she and her husband were involved in a sexual encounter with the woman more than a year ago, according to the affidavit. When the woman learned that Ms. Ziegler would not be present at the October meeting, the woman said she changed her mind and canceled with Mr. Ziegler, the affidavit said. But the woman said Mr. Ziegler came to her apartment uninvited and sexually assaulted her.

Mr. Ziegler told authorities that the encounter was consensual and that he recorded it, the affidavit said. Investigators were unable to locate the video and issued a search warrant to Google as part of the affidavit. A Google representative did not respond to a request for comment Sunday night.

Details from the affidavit, which were reported by other media outlets, were first reported by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, which describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and later obtained by The New York Times.

On October 4, the woman reported that Mr. Ziegler sexually assaulted her, and she was treated and examined at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, according to the affidavit.

In messages between the woman and Mr. Ziegler after the encounter, she told him she was “not okay with what happened,” the affidavit said. Mr. Ziegler repeatedly said she was his friend and tried to change the subject.

And in phone conversations between the woman and Mr. Ziegler, recorded by the woman and detectives, in which she said he sexually assaulted her, he denied the allegation and told the woman: “Those are big words, please don’t, no I didn’t.” the affidavit states.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for president, called on Ziegler to resign. “I don’t see how he can continue with that ongoing investigation given the gravity of those situations, so I think he should step down,” Mr. DeSantis said late last week, adding that he knew the Zieglers well and hoped the accusations were false. “He’s innocent until proven guilty, but we just can’t have a party chair that’s under that kind of control.”

In an email to members of the Florida Republican Party on Saturday, Mr. Ziegler said that “we have a country to save and I will not allow false accusations of a crime to put that mission on the back burner while I wait for this process to wrap up.” He added that he had been targeted by liberal activists and that Ms. Ziegler was “behind me 150 percent”.

Mr. Ziegler was elected chairman this year as Florida’s top Republicans debated candidates for the party’s 2024 nomination. He was considered the choice of an ally of former President Donald J. Trump.

The Zieglers are considered a political power couple in Florida, especially in the Sarasota area, which has become a hotbed of conservative activism since the end of the Trump administration. Moms for Freedom campaigned closely with Mr. DeSantis last year.

Patricia Mazzei and Nicholas Nehamas contributed to the reporting.

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