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Ex-Florida GOP chair accused of rape told police he was more concerned about “PR” than facts of case

When Sarasota police detectives first interviewed Christian Ziegler after receiving a complaint from a woman accusing him of rape, he answered no questions, transcripts released today by the police department show. 

Instead the now former Florida GOP chairman asked detectives about when the information would become public and expressed worry about his political future. 

“This will be a national story,” Ziegler told police during the Nov. 1 interview at his home. “I’m chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, so there’ll be a high public interest in the case.”

Less than 30 days later, public records obtained by the Florida Trident confirmed Ziegler was under criminal investigation for sexual battery and that the alleged victim had previously participated in a threesome with Ziegler’s wife, Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota County School Board member and cofounder of the conservative Moms for Liberty group.

The scandal quickly engulfed the Republican power couple. Bridget at the time was a close ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis and a darling of Florida’s conservative movement.  She championed anti-LGBTQ policies, including the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, book bans, and right-wing culture wars. The couple’s fall from power was swift.

DeSantis personally campaigned for Bridget Ziegler during her 2022 school board race and appointed her to the Central Florida Tourism Board created to punish Disney for its opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation banning classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity – legislation Bridget Ziegler helped draft. 

It was Christian Ziegler, a longtime Republican operative, who brought his wife into politics – and he was clearly focused on their dual careers when questioned about the rape allegation. 

“I’m more sensitive about the PR side, the political side, than I am about the facts,” Ziegler told police.

When detectives told Ziegler it was a complaint for sexual battery, Ziegler said he wanted to call a lawyer. Detectives left the Ziegler residence at that time, but met him the following day in the presence of his lawyer, Derek Byrd, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in Sarasota.

Ziegler’s Second Interview

During his second interview Ziegler told detectives he had known the complainant for about 15 years. 

“We had relations back when we first met, and then those started again about three years ago or four years ago,” Ziegler said. “And then it’s just been periodic since. So, um, that’s kind of the relationship there. It’s a very kind of friends benefits relationship. Never been an issue until now, I guess.”

Ziegler told detectives he had roughly a dozen “hook-ups” with the woman over the years. He told detectives Bridget joined them for a threesome on two occasions. The last encounter between the victim and Christian Ziegler occurred on Oct. 2, when she alleged Ziegler raped her in her apartment. 

On that day Ziegler initially told the victim Bridget would participate but later said his wife was no longer available, prompting the woman to reject his offer, texting him: “Sorry, mostly in it for her.”

Ziegler showed up at the victim’s apartment anyway. He told detectives he knocked on her door and she invited him in. Not long afterwards, Ziegler said the victim began performing oral sex on him in the kitchen.

“And then we walked over to the bedroom and had intercourse there. Didn’t last very long and it was just, that was it,” he said. “And after it was over, I left and we both left at the same time.” 

Ziegler told detectives he communicated with the victim via Instagram in vanish mode. When asked why he would use a secretive messaging mode if his wife knew about the relationship, Ziegler didn’t have an answer.

The woman told police she had been drinking all day and was in no condition to consent to sex with Ziegler. He said he didn’t notice any signs of impairment and didn’t smell alcohol on the woman, and asked her if she had been drinking or taking medications. According to Ziegler, she said no.

Portions of Ziegler’s second interview were heavily redacted. The Florida Trident has learned those redactions relate to the ongoing criminal investigation of video voyeurism. Ziegler videotaped the sex act, allegedly without the woman’s knowledge.

According to sources close to the investigation, Ziegler told detectives during the second interview the victim sent him a message after the incident asking him if he showed the video to his wife and if she liked it. Detectives never recovered the message and the victim denied she ever sent it.

“He thinks he’s above the law” 

The Trident also obtained copies of several interviews with the complainant.

She had just moved into a new apartment in downtown Sarasota. Although Ziegler had been to her previous apartment, he had not been to the new place.

The woman said that after she canceled the tryst, she was surprised to see Christian Ziegler at her door. 

“I just opened my door and he was just here,” she told police. “I was like, ‘How’d you get my address?’ I never gave it to him, never.” 

She admitted her memory of the incident was foggy because it was her day off and she  had been drinking tequila all day. “I felt like I definitely was intoxicated enough that I was not in a place to consent,” she said, later adding, “I just remember bits and pieces of him being here, and that’s it. That’s why my last memory was me telling [him] no and him coming in, and then the brief memory, and then him walking out was all I remember.”

She said Ziegler bent her over a stool in the apartment, and repeated: “I remember telling him no.”

Later the victim told detectives she believed Ziegler thought he could rape her because of his position in politics. 

“He thinks he’s above the law because of who he is,” she said. “He’s a politician. They think they’re above the law.”

Detectives asked the victim to describe what Ziegler was wearing on the day of the incident, but she could not remember. She could only recall Ziegler had gained weight. “He’s gained 40 pounds, by the way,” she said. “Gross.”

She also recounted an incident at her previous apartment when Ziegler climbed through her window and confirmed she’d had a threesome with Christian and Bridget Ziegler at their house. 

Bridget, said the woman, had communications with her over the years and seemed to encourage Christian’s sexual relationship with her. The woman described a text Bridget sent her after she broke her leg saying: “You want me to send CZ over to make you feel better?” 

“I’m like, ‘How? I’m in a wheelchair,’” the woman recalled. 

No charges were filed against Ziegler in the rape investigation. Prosecutors continue to investigate Ziegler for video voyeurism related to his taping of the incident.

About the Author: Michael Barfield focuses on the enforcement of open government laws. He serves as an investigative reporter and FLCGA’s Director of Public Access. He regularly assists journalists across the country with collecting information and publishing news reports obtained from public records and other sources.