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Florida GOP Chairman investigates alleged sexual harassment

Joe Gruters speaks during a session of the State Senate. | Steve Cannon / AP Photo



TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Republican Party has investigated its Chairman, Joe Gruters, in a sexual harassment allegation involving a member of the legislative staff amid complaints from senior party officials that the accusation was covered up.

Four party officials and an additional source who works with the Florida Republican Party told POLITICO on Tuesday morning that the allegations came from a night out at a Tallahassee bar during the 2021 legislative session. Sources say an aide male offered to bring Gruters home from the bar and that at one point Gruters allegedly sexually harassed the assistant. A formal complaint was lodged with the State party shortly after the incident.

“The Florida Republican Party has a zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind,” said Florida Republican Party Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferré. “Any complaint that the RPOF receives regarding harassment against its employees or members is taken very seriously and carefully reviewed in accordance with RPOF HR policies and all applicable laws and regulations. “

In a statement on Tuesday evening, the party said the accusation had been investigated for three months before the independent law firm responsible for the investigation concluded it was “unable to corroborate the allegations and that no accuser with first-hand knowledge was willing to press charges of allegations of harassment or other misconduct.

Gruters, 44, is a close ally of Donald Trump and spoke at the former president’s rally earlier this month in Sarasota, a city he also represents in the Florida Senate. Prior to joining the Florida Senate in 2018, he served at Florida House for two years.

Party treasurer Mike Moberly confirmed the outline of the allegations to POLITICO on Tuesday morning, adding that he was aware of the investigation but could not comment further until the investigation was completed .

Party vice chairman Christian Ziegler told POLITICO the party will fully investigate any harassment complaints against Gruters.

“The Florida Republican Party takes all allegations of harassment of any kind seriously and is fully investigating whatever the allegation is,” he said.

In a statement, Gruters said he was not aware of any investigation against him, adding that “we take these matters seriously and treat them with the utmost respect.”

A source close to Gruters told POLITICO on Tuesday that Gruters was informed last week that the investigation was closed.

Rumors that the Republican Party was investigating Gruters began to spread in circles in Tallahassee earlier this month, but spread on Sunday evening when members of the party’s executive committee were informed of the investigation, led by the prominent GOP lawyer Ben Gibson.

Still, some party members blame Gibson for not raising the issue at the party’s last quarterly meeting last month.

“Gibson knew about it at the last quarterly meeting and did not include it in his report,” a party official said.

Gibson did not respond to a request for comment.

Some members of the party’s executive committee said they were frustrated to learn just about an ongoing internal party investigation involving their chairman, a potential scandal that comes as they prepare for what will be a controversial election cycle in 2022.

“I don’t really have any official details other than what I was told last night so I don’t know what to think,” said former State Representative Matt Caldwell, who sits on the executive committee. party. “But there are questions I want answered.”

Others say they think the situation resembles, in part, an independent cover-up led by Jim Greer, who served as President of the Florida Republican Party from 2006 to 2010 and then pleaded guilty in 2013 to money laundering of the left and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

“It looks like a Greer’s blanket,” another official said.

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