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Former Florida GOP leader Ziegler told police he feared 'the political side' of assault investigation

Jay Cridlin, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

When police investigating a sexual battery claim showed up at Christian Ziegler’s Sarasota, Florida, home Nov. 1, he put away his dog, welcomed them in and apologized for the mess. And then, before the investigators could tell him why they were there, he wanted to know if their conversation would become public.

When they said they were investigating a criminal allegation, he said he had an idea of what it was about. And then he asked again if the interview was on the record.

“Can I ask questions without it being written down?” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting released by Sarasota police. “The problem is, with my role, everything gets played out very publicly.”

In that initial interview, which lasted less than a half hour, Ziegler asked questions or voiced concerns about the assault case going public at least 30 different times, according to the transcript — a rate of more than once every minute.

“I’m chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, so there’ll be a high public interest in the case,” he said. “I have to navigate this not just from the fact base, but also from a political, PR angle. … So I’m more sensitive about the PR side, the political side, than I am about the facts. Okay?”

Ziegler was ousted as the state’s Republican Party chairperson in January amid an ongoing investigation into an Oct. 2 incident. He was accused of sexually battering a woman with whom he’d had intermittent sexual affairs, and with whom he’d participated in at least one consensual threesome alongside his wife Bridget Ziegler, co-founder of the conservative education group Moms for Liberty and a member of the Sarasota County School Board.

 

Ziegler has not been charged with a crime, and police opted against charging him with sexual assault after they found a video they said appeared to show consensual sexual activity between him and his accuser. But police forwarded a potential video voyeurism case to the State Attorney’s Office for the 12th Judicial Circuit after discovering footage of the sexual encounter through his phone.

Police on Thursday released dozens of pages of interview transcripts with Ziegler, the accuser — whose name has been redacted in all police documents — and others.

Ziegler’s attorney, Matthew Sarelson, said Thursday night that his client had no comment on the interviews.

Ziegler sat for three police interviews in November and December. In them, he told investigators he was “blindsided” by the accusations from the woman, with whom he said he’d had sex about a dozen times over 14 years. He said they communicated via Instagram direct messages on “vanish” mode, where messages are kept only temporarily, and that their Oct. 2 encounter, like others before it, seemed “routine.”

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