Florida GOP censures Chair Christian Ziegler and strips him of authority amid sexual assault investigation

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CNN
 — 

The leadership of Florida’s Republican Party voted Sunday to censure Chairman Christian Ziegler and remove his authority as he faces an investigation into sexual assault.

In an emergency closed-door meeting in Orlando, the group also reduced Ziegler’s salary to $1 annually. Ziegler will no longer be able to hire or fire staff; speak on behalf of the Florida GOP; or raise funds for the party, though he retains his title as chairman.

The leadership, which voted 39-0, decided not to conduct a special investigation into Ziegler.

Ziegler, who has faced calls to resign from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Matt Gaetz, did not address the media after the meeting. CNN has reached out to Ziegler for comment.

The chairman has been under investigation by the Sarasota Police Department since October. According to a search warrant affidavit, which CNN first obtained from the Florida Center for Government Accountability, Ziegler and his wife, Bridget, planned a three-way sexual encounter with the alleged victim on the day of the alleged assault on October 2, and “when the victim learned that Bridget could not make it, she changed her mind and canceled with Christian.” The Zieglers allegedly had a previous consensual sexual relationship with the accuser, according to the affidavit.

Surveillance video showed Ziegler arriving at the alleged victim’s residence on the day of the alleged assault, the affidavit says. The alleged victim said Christian entered the apartment and raped her on a bar stool, according to the affidavit.

Ziegler, who has not been charged with a crime, said the sex was consensual. In a statement to CNN, his attorney, Derek Byrd, said he would be cleared of wrongdoing. “We are confident that once the police investigation is concluded that no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated,” Byrd said.

Ziegler spent the beginning of Sunday’s meeting trying to convince colleagues he should remain as chair, according to Michael Thompson, chairman of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee, who attended the meeting.

“He apologized for putting all of us in this position,” Thompson said after the vote. “He apologized for the shame that it brought on him and his family and the community. He was remorseful. He’s not a bad guy. He just did a real stupid thing and he’s going to suffer the consequences.”

“This is a sad day for all of us in Florida,” said Jack Brill, chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County.



08:07 – Source: CNN

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Ziegler refused to step down after news of the investigation became public. He also told CNN that reports of him asking for a seven-figure payout before leaving his role was a “100% lie.”

Florida GOP Vice Chairman Evan Power said he expects the full committee to officially remove Ziegler at a meeting in Tallahassee on January 8.

Ziegler and his wife are Florida Republican political stalwarts. The couple rose from their base of power in Sarasota County into significant statewide figures under DeSantis.

Ziegler, 40, became chairman of the Florida GOP in February after years working in local politics, including as a county commissioner and as state party vice chairman. Bridget Ziegler, 41, was appointed to the Sarasota County School Board in 2014 and has won reelection three times. The school board voted last week to ask her to resign. The move is non-binding and she has given no indication that she plans to step down.

Bridget Ziegler has been on the forefront of the cultural battles DeSantis has waged within Florida public schools. She co-founded Moms for Liberty, a conservative parents’ rights organization that has led the efforts in Florida and elsewhere to remove books from classrooms they deem inappropriate for kids. DeSantis named her to the board that now oversees the Walt Disney Company’s special taxing district in Central Florida amid his clash with the entertainment giant over a state law that restricted how sexual orientation and gender identity could be taught in the classroom.

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