• Associated Press

Florida Republican Chairman Won’t Resign over Rape Allegation, Saying He Is Innocent

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP
Republican Party of Florida chairman Christian Ziegler, left, greets former president Donald Trump at the RPOF Freedom Summit on Nov. 4, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The chair of Florida’s Republican Party says he will not resign over a woman’s allegation that he raped her, saying in an email to supporters that he is innocent. He did not address any specifics of the accusation that has roiled the state’s conservative politics.

Christian Ziegler sent the statement to state Republicans on Saturday, saying that he and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, are being targeted because they are “such loud political voices.” His wife co-founded the conservative group Moms for Liberty, which has led a campaign with Gov. Ron DeSantis to roll back sex education in Florida schools.

DeSantis said last week that while Christian Ziegler is innocent until proven guilty, he should resign to avoid becoming a distraction to their party. Ziegler insists he won’t quit.

“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,” wrote Ziegler, 40. A longtime GOP activist, he ascended to the state party’s top post in February.

No charges have been filed against Ziegler, but the Sarasota Police investigation remains open. The accuser, who has known Christian Ziegler for 20 years, told police in October that he forced his way into her apartment and raped her, according to search warrant affidavits filed by police.

In his Saturday email, Ziegler did not address having told detectives that he did have sex with the woman but that it was consensual. He also didn’t address his wife telling detectives that the couple and the woman had group sex once, more than a year ago.

“My family is rock solid. My wife is behind me 150% and we have methods in place to protect our (three) children, just as we have with all previous attacks that we have faced,” Christian Ziegler wrote. The Zieglers did not return calls and text messages Sunday seeking further comment.

DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern did not return a call and text message Sunday seeking comment on Ziegler’s refusal to resign.

The police avadavits saying that the Zieglers had group sex with a woman have led Democrats and gay rights leaders to accuse the couple of hypocrisy, given that an organization Bridget Ziegler cofounded — Moms for Liberty — has joined DeSantis and the Florida GOP in pushing back against LGBTQ+ causes.

Bridget Ziegler is also an elected member of the Sarasota County school board and was appointed by DeSantis to the board that now oversees Walt Disney World’s land development. DeSantis pushed through legislation last year disbanding a Disney-controlled board after the company opposed his bill that limits sex education in schools.

The rape accusation against Christian Ziegler became public last week after the Florida Center for Government Accountability, an investigative news organization, obtained a police report and the search warrant affidavits detailing the allegations.

The accuser’s name is redacted in the documents. The Associated Press does not name possible victims of sexual assault without their permission.

According to text messages cited in the affidavit, the woman and the Zieglers had planned to again have group sex on Oct. 2, but the woman backed out after Bridget Ziegler “couldn’t make it.”

The woman says she found Christian Ziegler in her apartment’s hallway later that day, that he pushed her inside and then raped her.

In text and phone conversations monitored by investigators, Ziegler offered the woman “financial help” before becoming suspicious that they were being recorded.

In a Nov. 2 interview with detectives, Ziegler said the sex was consensual and that he had recorded it. He said he deleted the video, then recovered it after the rape allegation surfaced.

Detectives seized Christian Ziegler’s phone on Nov. 2, the affidavits say. None of what they have found has been made public.