Rep. Matt Gaetz calls on Florida GOP chair accused of rape to resign

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., joined the chorus of prominent politicians calling on Republican Party of Florida Chair Christian Ziegler to resign over allegations of rape.

“We’re at the posture where we would be better served with different leadership in the Republican Party and I think it’s time to move on and select a different leader,” Gaetz told NBC News after delivering remarks as a surrogate for former President Donald Trump in Iowa.

“I do think he should step aside,” he added.

Gaetz’s comments are a shift, underscoring that Ziegler is losing more support. Last week, Gaetz told Florida Politics and Politico he thought it was too soon to weigh in.

“Given my experience, I tend to wait for the facts to come out before rendering judgment,” said the Florida Republican, who was investigated by the Justice Department for sex trafficking but ultimately not charged with a crime.

Prominent Florida politicians including Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have called on Ziegler to resign.

But Trump acolytes — including Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski — have urged him to remain in power, putting Gaetz at odds with others in the former president’s inner circle.

Sarasota police are investigating allegations that Ziegler raped a woman in October.

Christian and his wife, Bridget, were planning to have a consensual sexual encounter with the alleged victim, whom the couple has known for 20 years. The woman tried to cancel once she learned that Bridget would not be coming. Christian, however, went to the woman’s apartment and then raped her, according to a search warrant affidavit that was first reported by the Florida Center for Government Accountability and shared with NBC News.

Sarasota police have not confirmed or denied the authenticity of the affidavit, which has been widely reported.

Christian Ziegler contacted the woman on social media after the incident, and she told him what happened was “not okay,” according to the affidavit.

“We are confident that once the police investigation is concluded that no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated,” Ziegler’s attorney Derek Byrd said in a statement for a previous NBC News story.

The leadership of the Florida Republican Party is holding an emergency meeting Sunday in Orlando to consider disciplinary actions that could include taking away Ziegler’s salary and reducing his role in the party. He cannot be removed from his post at that meeting.

Bridget Ziegler is a prominent conservative activist in the state and co-founded the group Moms for Liberty, which works to elect conservative women to school boards. She is not accused of any wrongdoing, but she has already resigned from her post at one conservative organization, and her fellow members of the Sarasota County School Board voted this week to ask for her resignation.

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