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Florida GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler won’t step aside, despite call from DeSantis to step down

ORLANDO, Fla. — Republican Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler indicated Saturday he does not plan to step aside from his leadership post amid an investigation into an alleged sexual battery in October in Sarasota.

Ziegler, in an email to party members, called the allegations “false” but said he was “a bit limited” on what he could say. He also said his wife, Bridget, was “behind me 150 percent” and the couple’s children are protected, “just as we have with all previous attacks that we have faced in the past.”

“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,” Christian Ziegler wrote.

Ziegler’s message came two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis said he couldn’t see the chairman remaining in the position while the investigation continued.

The complaint was first reported Thursday by the Florida Trident, which is part of the Florida Center for Government Accountability.

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A heavily redacted 13-page report released Thursday by the Sarasota Police Department provided few details, though it included words such as “rape” and “had been sexually battered.” It listed the date of the alleged incident as Oct. 2 and the date of the complaint as Oct. 4.

Ziegler has not been charged.

“To my knowledge, my role in this investigation is complete and I now wait for law enforcement to finish the police report,” Ziegler said in the email. “Hopefully that takes place shortly.”

Derek Byrd, an attorney for Ziegler, released a statement Thursday acknowledging the complaint.

“Mr. Ziegler has been fully cooperative with every request made by the Sarasota Police Department,” Byrd said in the statement. “We are confident that once the police investigation is concluded that no charges will be filed, and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated.”

“Unfortunately, public figures are often accused of acts that they did not commit whether it be for political purposes or financial gain,” he added.

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Ziegler included Byrd’s statement in Saturday’s email.

Ziegler, with the backing of supporters of former President Donald Trump, won the party chairmanship in February over party Vice Chairman Evan Power, who had backing from supporters of DeSantis. Trump and DeSantis are battling for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Describing the complaint as “serious,” DeSantis late Thursday called for Ziegler to “step aside” as chairman.

“I don’t see how we can continue with that investigation ongoing given the gravity of the situation,” DeSantis said during a news conference after a debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“I think he should step aside. I think he should tend to that,” DeSantis said. “He’s innocent ‘til proven guilty. But we just can’t have a party chair that is under that type of scrutiny. And so I hope the charges aren’t true.”

DeSantis called Ziegler and his wife “friends,” before adding, “but the mission is more important.”

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The Florida Trident report alleged that Ziegler and his wife had been involved in a three-year consensual sexual relationship with the woman who filed the complaint.

Bridget Ziegler, who helped organize the Moms For Liberty conservative political group, is a member of the Sarasota County School Board and was appointed by DeSantis to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors, which helps govern property that includes Walt Disney World.

She is not involved in the complaint.

In the email Saturday, Christian Ziegler blamed “selective” leaks to a “liberal media outlet.”

“Unfortunately, in my case, and most likely due to my wife and I being such loud political voices, I have been informed directly by a reporter that there are leaks in this process who are feeding the press selective information to generate narratives with, knowing that I cannot publicly counter them or share my side of the story at this point in the process,” Ziegler wrote.

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