CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) RESOURCE CENTER Read More
Add To Favorites

DeSantis shows double standard in sexual battery case | Steve Bousquet

South Florida Sun Sentinel - 12/2/2023

Ron DeSantis did not mince words.

Florida’s governor said a Republican with a high political profile who faces grave accusations of criminal wrongdoing — in this case, sexual battery — has to step aside. But if you thought Ron DeSantis was talking about Donald Trump, think again.

DeSantis was talking about Christian Ziegler, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, who is under investigation by the Sarasota Police Department after a woman accused him of rape in October, according to the Florida Center for Government Accountability.

The website’s news platform, the Florida Trident, reported that Ziegler assaulted a woman with whom he and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota County school board member and co-founder of the far-right group Moms for Liberty, previously had a consensual sexual encounter.

Police obtained a search warrant to seize the Republican operative’s cell phone, Google Mail and Google Drive accounts. Zeigler’s lawyer said his client has been fully cooperative and that he expected him to be “completely exonerated.”

DeSantis said Ziegler has to step down.

“I don’t see how he can continue with that investigation ongoing given the gravity of those situations, and so I think that he should, I think he should step aside,” DeSantis told reporters in Alpharetta, Ga., Thursday night, after his made-for-TV clash on Fox with California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “He’s innocent till proven guilty, but we just can’t have a party chair that is under that type of scrutiny.”

It’s the right position, even though Ziegler, like anyone, is presumed innocent.

But it makes Ziegler’s status as the party leader much more precarious at the dawn of a presidential election year. Politically, it’s impossible.

Without the backing of DeSantis, the titular head of the Florida GOP, Ziegler can’t stick around as chairman for long.

Every day brings a new revelation, such as Friday’s release of details that Ziegler visited the woman at her apartment on Oct. 2, followed by a frantic 911 call from a friend and co-worker of the purported victim, who was worried about her and told the police: “She told me she was raped yesterday.”

A police search warrant affidavit says video camera surveillance at the woman’s apartment complex captured Ziegler’s Ford truck driving in and out on Oct. 2, according to WFTS-TV in Tampa.

If, as DeSantis claims, “we just can’t have” a party chairman who’s under investigation for alleged sexual battery, then what about Trump, the party’s leading presidential candidate, who has faced a multitude of similar allegations?

Why wouldn’t that standard apply to him?

Trump faces a total of 91 counts in four separate state and federal indictments.

After the fourth set of charges came down, in the Georgia election that Trump tried to invalidate, here is what DeSantis said: “I think it’s an example of this criminalization of politics,” he told reporters in August in New Hampshire, the state that will hold the first-in-the-nation presidential primary on Jan. 23. “I don’t think this is something that’s good for the country.”

None of this is meant to minimize the seriousness of the allegations against Ziegler. But to DeSantis, Ziegler must step aside, while Trump is a victim of the “criminalization of politics.” That’s a clear double standard by a governor who wants to lead the country and set a moral example for the rest of us.

Separate from those four indictments, Trump was found liable by a civil jury in New York in May for the sexual abuse of writer E. Jean Carroll in a Manhattan department store in 1996. Asked about that verdict, DeSantis was in full deflection mode. “I’ve been pretty busy,” he said in May.

At least 18 women have accused Trump of inappropriate behavior, including allegations of sexual assault, ABC News has reported. Trump himself said on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the p—y.”

But don’t expect harsh judgments of Trump’s behavior by DeSantis. You won’t find them. The risk of alienating the unforgiving MAGA base is too great.

As for Ziegler, this is a rare moment where DeSantis and the Florida Democratic Party are 100% in agreement. The party has launched an online petition demanding Ziegler’s immediate resignation as party chairman.

“Allegations of rape and sexual battery are severe and should be taken seriously,” party chair Nikki Fried said. “I applaud the accuser’s bravery in coming forward against a political figure as powerful as Christian Ziegler, and I trust that the Sarasota Police Department will conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations of criminal behavior. Christian Ziegler can’t possibly continue to lead the Florida GOP under these conditions.”

Steve Bousquet is Opinion Editor of the Sun Sentinel and a columnist in Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale. Contact him at sbousquet@sunsentinel.com or (850) 567-2240 and follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @stevebousquet.

©2023 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.