Florida Republicans Strip Powers of Embattled Party Chairman

The embattled chairman of the Republican Party of Florida was censured and stripped of his duties and salary on Sunday, decisions that all but ousted him from the party’s top post as he faces a criminal investigation into an accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman.

In an emergency meeting in Orlando, the party’s executive committee stopped short of immediately forcing out Christian Ziegler, the chairman. But the votes to declare him unfit for office, remove almost all of his authority and reduce his salary to $1 were seen among many party members as the final steps before his potential removal from office.

Mr. Ziegler, 40, has been under criminal investigation in Sarasota, Fla., where he lives, since October, when a woman told the police that he had sexually assaulted her. He has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. He has also refused to resign since the investigation became public last month, despite sustained pressure from Republicans, ranging from the governor to county-level chairs, for him to step down.

Republicans have said that they consider the criminal investigation against Mr. Ziegler serious, and a distraction that would make it untenable for him to raise funds and rally the party going into an important presidential election year.

“The chair of the Republican Party of Florida has to do three things: represent the values of the Republican Party, be able to fund-raise and be able to support candidates running for office,” Adam McGill Ross, the chairman of the Republican Party in Pinellas County, who is not on the executive committee, said before the meeting. “He can’t do those three things.”

He added, “I don’t understand why he’s making us go through this spectacle.”

Mr. Ziegler told the police that he had consensual sex on Oct. 2 with the woman who accused him of sexual assault, according to a search warrant affidavit. Her name has been redacted from public records. The woman told the police that she had a sexual encounter with Mr. Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, more than a year ago, but that she declined to have sex with Mr. Ziegler on Oct. 2 after realizing that his wife would not be joining them. Mr. Ziegler then went to the woman’s apartment uninvited and sexually assaulted her, she told the police.

Ms. Ziegler is a Sarasota County School Board member and co-founder of the right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty, which has pushed for anti-L.G.B.T.Q. policies in schools. She has faced calls for her own resignation, with critics seizing on the fact that she confirmed to the police that she had taken part in the previous sexual encounter with the woman as an example of hypocrisy.

Ms. Ziegler has also refused to resign, even after the school board voted 4-to-1 last week urging her to do so. (She cast the lone no vote.)

Mr. Ziegler told members of Moms for Liberty in a media training session during its national conference in Philadelphia this summer to resist asking for forgiveness, after the group faced public outrage over a local chapter in Indiana quoting Hitler in a newsletter.

“Never apologize. Ever,” Mr. Ziegler said, according to NBC News. “This is my view. Other people have different views on this. I think apologizing makes you weak.” (The chapter eventually apologized.)

The Zieglers’ political stars had been rising in Florida before the scandal, especially in Sarasota, a hotbed of right-wing activism in the state. Ms. Ziegler campaigned last year with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who later appointed her to a state board overseeing Disney World.

Mr. Ziegler, a political consultant and former Sarasota County commissioner, was elected to lead the state Republican Party in February. He was seen as the candidate aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, rather than Mr. DeSantis. Mr. DeSantis has called on Mr. Ziegler to resign.

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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