The leadership of the Florida Republican Party voted Sunday to censure Speaker Christian Ziegler and strip him of his authority as he faces a sexual assault investigation.
At an emergency closed-door meeting in Orlando, the group also reduced Ziegler’s salary to $1 a year. Ziegler will no longer be able to hire or fire staff; speaking for the Florida GOP; or raise funds for the party, although he retains his title of president.
The board, which voted 39 to 0, decided not to conduct a specific investigation into Ziegler.
Ziegler, who has faced calls for resignation from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Matt Gaetz, did not speak to the media after the meeting. CNN has contacted Ziegler for comment.
The president has been under investigation by Sarasota police since October. According to a search warrant affidavit, which CNN first obtained from the Florida Center for Government Accountability, Ziegler and his wife, Bridget, planned a three-way sexual encounter with the alleged victim on the day of the alleged assault, on Oct. 2, and “When the victim learned Bridget couldn’t come, she changed her mind and canceled with Christian. The Zieglers allegedly had a consensual sexual relationship with the accuser, according to the affidavit.
Surveillance video shows Ziegler arriving at the alleged victim’s home on the day of the alleged assault, the affidavit states. The alleged victim said Christian entered the apartment and raped her on a bar stool, according to the affidavit.
Ziegler, who has not been charged with a crime, said the sex was consensual. In a statement to CNN, his lawyer, Derek Byrd, said he would be cleared of any wrongdoing. “We are confident that once the police investigation is complete, no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated,” Byrd said.
Ziegler spent the beginning of Sunday’s meeting trying to convince his colleagues that he should remain chairman, according to Michael Thompson, chairman of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee, who attended the meeting.
“He apologized for putting us all in this position,” Thompson said after the vote. “He apologized for the shame this caused him, his family and the community. He was remorseful. He’s not a bad guy. He just did a really stupid thing and he’s going to suffer the consequences.
“This is a sad day for all of us in Florida,” said Jack Brill, chairman of the Sarasota County Republican Party.
08:07 – Source: CNN
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Ziegler refused to step down after news of the investigation became public. He also told CNN that reports he demanded a seven-figure payment before leaving his post were a “100 percent lie.”
Florida GOP Vice Chairman Evan Power said he expects the full committee to formally impeach Ziegler at a meeting in Tallahassee on Jan. 8.
Ziegler and his wife are Florida Republican political stalwarts. The couple rose from their power base in Sarasota County to prominent figures statewide under DeSantis.
Ziegler, 40, became chairman of the Florida GOP in February after years of work in local politics, including as a county commissioner and vice chair of the state party. Bridget Ziegler, 41, was appointed to the Sarasota County School Board in 2014 and was re-elected three times. The school board voted last week to ask him to resign. The decision is not binding and she has given no indication that she intends to step down.
Bridget Ziegler has been at the forefront of DeSantis’ cultural battles within Florida’s public schools. She co-founded Moms for Liberty, a conservative parent advocacy organization that has led efforts in Florida and elsewhere to remove books from classrooms they deem inappropriate for children. DeSantis named her to the board that now oversees the Walt Disney Company’s special tax district in Central Florida, amid his conflict with the entertainment giant over a state law that limited how sexual orientation and gender identity could be taught in the classroom.