Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP/FILE
Florida Party Chairman Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kissimmee, Florida.
Christian Ziegler, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, is under investigation by the Sarasota Police Department in connection with a sexual assault allegation from October.
An attorney for Ziegler, Derek Byrd, said in a statement that his client has “fully cooperated with every request” from the Sarasota Police Department.
“We acknowledge reports that the Sarasota Police Department is conducting an investigation into Mr. Ziegler,” he said.
“We are confident that once the police investigation is concluded no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated,” Byrd said. He did not reveal any details about the investigation.
The report Byrd referenced comes from a local Florida watchdog website that first described the investigation, along with alleged details about Ziegler’s sexual relations and the alleged assault. CNN has not independently verified those allegations.
However, on Thursday morning CNN obtained a police report: a heavily redacted 12-page document in which “rape,” “sexual assault” and “sexual assault” were among the few visible words. 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 Oct. 4 that the reported incident took place two days earlier at a home in Sarasota. However, the details of the alleged assault were redacted. No names, including Ziegler’s, could be seen on the redacted copy.
Sarasota Police Department spokesperson Cynthia McLaughlin told CNN that no charges have been filed but could not provide further details, citing an active investigation.
Ziegler did not respond to a call or a voicemail left on his cell phone.
He and his wife, Bridget, are staunch Florida Republican politicians. The couple rose from their power base in Sarasota County to become major figures at the state level under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Christian Ziegler, 40, became chairman of the Florida Republican Party in February after years working in local politics, including as a county commissioner and vice chairman of the state party. Bridget Ziegler, 41, was appointed to the Sarasota County School Board in 2014 and has won re-election three times, most recently in 2022 with the endorsement of DeSantis.
Bridget Ziegler has been at the forefront of the cultural battles DeSantis has waged in Florida public schools. She co-founded Moms for Liberty, a conservative parents’ rights organization that has led efforts in Florida and elsewhere to remove books they deem inappropriate for children from classrooms. DeSantis appointed her to the board that now oversees the Walt Disney Company’s special tax district in Central Florida amid his standoff with the entertainment giant over a state law that restricted how sexual orientation and gender identity could be taught in Classroom.
The emerging scandal immediately sent shockwaves through Florida’s Republican Party, which was already grappling with deepening divisions since the contested GOP presidential primary involving two of the state’s most notable figures, DeSantis and former President Donald Trump. .
Amid the investigation, Ziegler has continued to act as party chairman, including at a recent state Republican Party meeting involving the major presidential candidates.
DeSantis said Ziegler should “step aside” and told reporters Thursday night that he “just saw” the allegations and “they are very serious.”
“I don’t see how we can continue that ongoing investigation, given the seriousness of those situations,” DeSantis said at a news conference after the Fox News debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “I think you should step aside, I think you should deal with it.”
Acknowledging the personal relationship he has with Ziegler and his wife, DeSantis said he ultimately believes it is in the party’s best interest for Ziegler to step aside.
“I know it. I know Bridget. They have been friends, but the mission is more important,” DeSantis said.
The state party issued a statement Thursday saying: “The Republican Party of Florida is aware of the allegations related to Chairman Christian Ziegler. “Authorities are conducting an investigation and the RPOF will not comment on an ongoing investigation.”
In a statement to CNN, the Sarasota Republican Party said it was “shocked and disappointed” to learn of the alleged police investigation.
“The Republican Party takes all such allegations of possible 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 assault are serious and must be taken seriously,” Fried said in a statement. “Christian Ziegler cannot continue to lead the Florida Republican Party under these conditions. Given the seriousness of the criminal accusations, I call for your immediate resignation.”