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Florida GOP chair under investigation related to sexual battery allegation

By Steve Contorno, Denise Royal, Carlos Suarez and Kit Maher, CNN

(CNN) — Christian Ziegler, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, is under investigation by the Sarasota Police Department related to an allegation of sexual battery from October.

An attorney for Ziegler, Derek Byrd, said in a statement that his client has been “fully cooperative with every request” from the Sarasota Police Department.

“We acknowledge the reports that there is an investigation being conducted by the Sarasota Police Department regarding Mr. Ziegler,” he said.

“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. He did not disclose any details about the investigation.

The report Byrd referenced is from a local Florida watchdog website that first outlined the investigation, along with alleged details about Ziegler’s sexual relationships and the alleged assault. CNN has not independently verified those allegations.

However, CNN on Thursday morning obtained a police report – a heavily redacted 12-page document in which “raped,” “sexual assault” and “sexual battery” were among the handful of words that were visible. The report was provided to CNN by the Sarasota Police Department in response to a request for complaints, police reports and other investigative materials involving the Zieglers.

The alleged victim told police on October 4 that the reported incident took place two days earlier at a home in Sarasota. However, details of the alleged assault were redacted. No names – including Ziegler’s – could be seen in the redacted copy.

Sarasota Police Department spokesperson Cynthia McLaughlin told CNN no charges have been filed but could not provide further details, citing an active investigation.

Ziegler did not respond to a call and voicemail left on his cell phone.

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

Christian 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, most recently in 2022 with the backing of DeSantis.

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.

The emerging scandal immediately sent shockwaves through the Republican Party of Florida, which was already dealing with deepening divisions from the hotly contested GOP presidential primary featuring two of the state’s most notable figures, DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

Amid the investigation, Ziegler has continued to operate as party chairman, including at a recent state GOP gathering that featured the top presidential candidates.

DeSantis said that Ziegler should “step aside,” telling reporters on Thursday evening that he’d “just seen” the allegations and “they’re very serious.”

“I don’t see how we can continue with that investigation ongoing, given the gravity of those situations,” DeSantis said at a media availability following the Fox News debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “I think he should step aside – I think he should tend to that.”

Acknowledging the personal relationship he has with Ziegler and his wife, DeSantis said he ultimately believes it’s in the interest of the party for Ziegler to step aside.

“I’ve known him. I’ve known Bridget. They’ve been friends, but the mission is more important,” DeSantis said.

The state party released a statement on Thursday, saying, “The Republican Party of Florida is aware of the allegations related to Chairman Christian Ziegler. An investigation is being conducted by authorities and RPOF will not be commenting on an ongoing investigation.”

In a statement to CNN, the Republican Party of Sarasota said it was “shocked and disappointed” to learn of the alleged police investigation.

“The Republican Party takes all such allegations of potential criminal conduct very seriously and will fully cooperate with investigators.”

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried called on Ziegler to resign.

“Allegations of rape and sexual battery are severe and should be taken seriously,” Fried said in a statement. “Christian Ziegler can’t possibly continue to lead the Florida GOP under these conditions. Given the severity of the criminal allegations, I’m calling for his immediate resignation.”

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