Authorities expanding investigation into Florida GOP chair accused of rape

MIAMI — Sarasota authorities are expanding their investigation into Florida Republican Chair Christian Ziegler to probe whether he broke any laws when he allegedly recorded a sexual encounter with a woman accusing him of rape, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The Dec. 8 search warrant, obtained by POLITICO through a public records request, seeks access to Ziegler’s Instagram messages, videos and photos, including those that were under the “vanish” mode that makes them disappear from the app.

According to the affidavit, the alleged victim told police she didn’t consent to being recorded.

The new revelation adds to the mounting problems for Ziegler, who has insisted that the Oct. 2 sexual encounter was consensual and has refused to step down from his role with the GOP despite Gov. Ron DeSantis and other top Florida Republicans urging him to resign. The party’s executive board members stripped Ziegler of his power and salary during a meeting in Orlando on Dec. 17.

Ziegler’s wife Bridget Ziegler, who co-founded the conservative parents group Moms for Liberty, has also faced accusations of hypocrisy in part because she told police during the probe that she had a consensual sexual encounter with the victim and her husband about a year ago. Bridget Ziegler has pushed traditional family values and was an outspoken supporter of Florida’s law that bans teachers from instructing students on sexual orientation and gender identity, known by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay.”

The new document states that Ziegler showed police the 2 1/2-minute video at the center of the investigation on Nov. 2, 2023. It also says that Ziegler’s attorney, Derek Byrd, told police that the alleged victim asked Ziegler in an Instagram message whether he showed his wife, Bridget Ziegler, the video.

Both the alleged victim and Bridget Ziegler told police they didn’t know about the video and hadn’t seen it.

Ziegler faces possible charges of rape and video voyeurism. Asked about the newly released search warrant, Byrd told POLITICO that he stood by his original statement about the investigation, which stated he was confident his client would not face charges and predicted he’d be “completely exonerated.”

Byrd said he didn’t know when the investigation would be over but “have to believe it will be soon.”

Ziegler will face GOP state and county leaders on Jan. 8 in Tallahassee, where members are expected to oust him from his post. Evan Powers, the current vice chair who is leading the group, will also run to replace him that same day.

The Florida Center for Government Accountability initially learned of the investigation into Ziegler and has broken most of the developments on the case.

Ziegler taped the encounter, and unnamed sources who viewed the video told the Florida Center for Government Accountability that it could undermine the rape complaint.

Bridget Ziegler, who is a Sarasota County School Board member, has refused to step down from her school board job. She also still works as a board member for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which controls the land surrounding Walt Disney World after the entertainment giant clashed with DeSantis over an LGBTQ+ school curriculum ban.

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