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Florida GOP chairman under fire as more details emerge in rape inquiry

Leaders of the Florida Republican Party criticized state GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler as details emerged in a rape allegation by a woman with whom he and his wife previously had a three-way sexual encounter.

Ziegler is under investigation by Sarasota police but has not been charged. A search warrant affidavit obtained by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog group, and provided to The Washington Post reveals additional details about the allegations of the assault. Police also obtained from the woman’s cellphone messages between her and Ziegler in the hours leading up to the encounter, the affidavit states.

On Oct. 2, the woman had agreed to have a sexual encounter with Ziegler that was to include his wife, Bridget, the affidavit says. But when the woman learned that Bridget couldn’t make it, she changed her mind and canceled. When Ziegler told her in one message that his wife was no longer available, she replied, “Sorry I was mostly in for her,” she said in a message, according to the affidavit.

According to the affidavit, the woman told Sarasota police that Ziegler then showed up at her apartment uninvited and raped her. The woman reported the alleged assault to police two days later, and a rape kit was done at a Sarasota hospital, the affidavit states.

Christian Ziegler later told detectives that he had consensual sex with the woman, and that he had video-recorded it and uploaded the video to Google Drive, according to the affidavit, but police were not able to locate the video. Sarasota police served a search warrant to Google last month, the affidavit says. Google did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.

In a 911 call two days after the alleged assault, a recording of which was also obtained by the Florida Center for Government Accountability and shared with The Post, a friend of the woman asked emergency responders to check on the woman at her apartment. According to the call’s recording, the friend said the woman hadn’t shown up for work for two days. When the friend called the woman, the woman sounded “drunk” and was “slurring her words,” the friend told dispatchers. “She told me she was raped and that she’s scared to leave her house,” the friend added, according to the recording of the call.

Bridget Ziegler, who is not named in the complaint against her husband, is a co-founder of Moms for Liberty and has worked closely with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on legislation that opponents have described as anti-LGBTQ+. Bridget Ziegler “confirmed having a sexual encounter with the victim and Christian over a year ago and that it only happened one time,” the affidavit says.

News reports emerged several days ago about the allegations of rape, but more records were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request late Friday and reported by several Florida news outlets. They include details of recorded conversations via Instagram and phone calls between the woman and Christian Ziegler that detectives obtained. Police have filed search warrants for Ziegler’s phone, email and other devices. The Sarasota Police Department did not reply to several requests for comment.

Christian Ziegler’s attorney, Derek Byrd, said in a statement Thursday that his client “will be completely exonerated.” Byrd and Ziegler did not respond to requests for comment Saturday about the details in the affidavit.

Ziegler, 40, said in an email Saturday to party members that he is not leaving his post. Ziegler said that he and his wife, who have three young children, are being “targeted,” adding that he believed it was “most likely due to my wife and I being such loud political voices.”

Bridget Ziegler has not returned messages seeking comment.

The alarm within the Florida GOP comes as the party is already roiled with divisions over whom to support in the presidential primary — DeSantis or former president Donald Trump.

“It’s certainly deeply, deeply troubling,” said state Rep. Spencer Roach, a member of the Florida GOP executive committee. “I would describe this as just an absolute body blow to the Republican Party. Everyone that I’ve talked to about this is in an absolute tailspin.”

DeSantis has said Ziegler should step down from the role.

The Zieglers were seen as a rising power couple in the state, second only to Ron and Casey DeSantis in their visibility and influence in state politics.

Bridget Ziegler, 41, has crusaded to purge schools around the country of books that encourage acceptance of different sexual and gender identities or highlight discrimination against Black people. She was first appointed to the Sarasota County School Board by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2014 to fill a vacant seat. She has been reelected since then, and DeSantis took the unusual step last year of endorsing her and other conservative school board candidates.

Earlier this year, DeSantis appointed her to the special taxing district he and the legislature created to run the property around Disney World after the state took it over during a feud between the company and the governor. Ziegler has repeated DeSantis’s criticisms about Disney, claiming that the company’s content “sexualizes” children.

As a school board member, she has ordered the removal of posters that gave information about starting Gay-Straight Alliance groups, according to another board member, Tom Edwards. She also refused to support a fellow school board member who was being called a “groomer” and other slurs at a school board meeting earlier this year, Edwards said.

“I asked her to stop it, but she said no, this is free speech,” said Edwards, the only gay person on the board. “I had to shut it down because it was language that I didn’t want my LGBTQ+ students and their friends and their parents and my community to think was acceptable or true. She wouldn’t stop it, so I walked out.”

Bridget Ziegler was also instrumental in advising legislators on the Parental Rights in Education law, derided by critics as the “don’t say gay,” law, which prohibits classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ issues. She was with DeSantis when he signed the law.

Edwards, Roach and others say one of the most striking details to emerge from the investigation is the difference between what the Zieglers profess in public, and what they are alleged to have done in private.

“They have held themselves out to be paragons of the Christian conservative family values, a prototype,” Roach said. “And I think there’s a very heavy sense of betrayal, certainly within the Republican Party.”

Some observers viewed the allegations and Bridget Ziegler’s reported confirmation of a prior sexual encounter among the three as evidence of hypocrisy.

“This situation has really sparked not just enormous interest, but enormous criticism because it seems that there is just a stunning level of hypocrisy,” said Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida.

“Even if the rape sexual assault charge ends up either not true or unable to be proven, I think for a lot of Republicans, they would just be uncomfortable with the fact that you have people who are pushing a social conservative agenda saying there’s too much sex in society, particularly LGBTQ sex, but yet have engaged in, well, a threesome,” Jewett added.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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