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More details emerge on accusation against Florida GOP chairperson Christian Ziegler

News outlets obtained a search warrant affidavit and related 911 call.
 
Republican Party of Florida chairperson Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit on Nov. 4 in Kissimmee.
Republican Party of Florida chairperson Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit on Nov. 4 in Kissimmee. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Dec. 2, 2023|Updated Dec. 2, 2023

A search warrant affidavit and 911 audio released to news outlets on Friday shed light on a recently surfaced allegation that Florida GOP chairperson Christian Ziegler sexually assaulted a woman with whom he and his wife had had a previous sexual encounter.

The affidavit, obtained by the Orlando Sentinel and ABC Action News in Tampa, offered the most detailed public account yet of the incident, which has roiled Florida GOP leadership and led to calls for Ziegler to resign.

The affidavit was filed in support of a search warrant for Ziegler’s cellphone and files associated with his Gmail account, according to both outlets.

The woman, a longtime friend of Ziegler’s, told Sarasota police she “was sexually involved one time over a year ago” with Ziegler and his wife, and had agreed to have a second sexual encounter with the couple on Oct. 2, according to an excerpt of the affidavit posted online by ABC Action News. But when Bridget Ziegler was unable to make it, the woman told investigators she canceled the plans, texting Christian Ziegler that she was “mostly in it for” his wife.

Minutes later, when the woman opened her front door to walk her dog, Christian Ziegler was standing in the hallway outside of her apartment, according to ABC Action News’ reporting on the affidavit. He then proceeded to enter her apartment, where he allegedly raped her.

According to both reports on the affidavit, the woman said Ziegler did not use a condom during the encounter and told the victim, “I’m leaving the same way I came in.”

Ziegler’s attorney has said he did nothing wrong and will be “completely exonerated.”

Surveillance footage from the victim’s apartment complex viewed by police reportedly showed Ziegler arriving on the victim’s floor before leaving and driving away 38 minutes later, the affidavit reportedly reads.

ABC Action News reported that, after the alleged assault, the victim called her sister and went to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where a sexual assault kit was performed.

The alleged assault was reported to police two days after the encounter, on Oct. 4. Audio of a 911 call from that day reveals that a friend of the victim had asked law enforcement to perform a wellness check on the woman after she reportedly failed to show up to work for two days.

“She hasn’t shown up for work the past two days and I just got off the phone with her and she sounds drunk and I know she has pain medication on her and she told me that she doesn’t think she can do it anymore,” the caller told the dispatcher, according to audio of the 911 call that was obtained by the Florida Trident, a watchdog news outlet that first broke the news that police were investigating the sexual battery allegation against Ziegler.

According to ABC Action News’ reporting on the search warrant affidavit, investigators learned on Oct. 27 that Ziegler was sending messages to the victim via Instagram. Police then began monitoring and recording the messages.

“During the messaging, Christian continuously asked how he could help, and the victim responded, ‘You caused this. You can’t help me,’” the affidavit reads, according to ABC Action News. “Christian repeatedly referred to the victim as his friend in an effort to minimize the situation, he would deflect by trying to change the subject when confronted.”

The affidavit then recounts a series of phone calls between Christian Ziegler and the victim in which she expressed that Ziegler had “hurt her” and that she was deeply upset at what had happened during the encounter. In one call, the victim told Ziegler directly that he had sexually assaulted her.

“Those are big words, please don’t, no I didn’t,” Ziegler responded, according to the excerpt of the affidavit posted online by ABC Action News. “You invited me in, that’s it. I did not at all, and I never want you to feel that way.”

According to ABC Action News’ reporting, on Nov. 1, investigators interviewed Bridget Ziegler, who confirmed that she knew the victim through her husband and that the three of them had had a sexual encounter one time over a year ago.

The affidavit also states that, in an interview with his attorney present, Christian Ziegler told detectives that he had consensual sex with the woman and recorded it, according to the Sentinel. He said he initially deleted the video but then uploaded it to his Google Drive after learning of the allegation. Police said in the affidavit that they had not recovered the video, the Sentinel reported.

The investigation into the allegations is ongoing and no charges have been filed against Christian Ziegler. His lawyer Derek Byrd issued a statement Thursday saying that Ziegler was cooperating with investigators and predicting that he would ultimately be exonerated of any wrongdoing.

Still, the allegations have cast a shadow over the Zieglers, one of Florida’s most influential Republican couples.

Bridget Ziegler is a Sarasota School Board member and a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a conservative organization that has gained national attention while advocating for more parental control and traditional values in public schools.

Christian Ziegler, as Florida GOP chairperson, is tasked with guiding the party through the state’s 2024 presidential primary, when two Floridians — former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis — will be on the ballot.

Ziegler’s future at the helm of the Florida Republican Party, however, is facing a real challenge. On Thursday, shortly after a debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, DeSantis told reporters that Ziegler should step down as chairperson amid the investigation.

“I don’t see how he can continue with that investigation ongoing given the gravity of those situations, and so I think that he should step aside,” DeSantis said. “I think he should tend to that.”