Republican Party officials take ‘all allegations of harassment of any kind seriously.’
Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters is denying knowledge of allegations raised against him of sexual harassment of a male staffer.
Gruters said he knows of no open investigations into any allegations from party staffers. He made the remarks after confirmation from Republican Party of Florida officials he had been investigated for allegedly sexually harassing a male staffer.
“I am unaware of any open investigations against me,” Gruters said. “Whether it is me or any member of the Party, we take these matters seriously and treat them with the utmost respect.”
The Republican Party of Florida has not confirmed the status of the investigation, and in its own statements has not indicated the matter is closed. Party leaders made clear they take the accusations seriously.
“The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) has a zero tolerance policy toward harassment of any kind,” said Helen Aguirre Ferre, executive director for the RPOF. “Any complaint RPOF receives regarding harassment towards its employees or members is taken very seriously and thoroughly reviewed in accordance with RPOF internal HR policies and all applicable laws and regulations.”
“I fully agree with the statement from the RPOF and agree with its sentiment,” Gruters said. He has not addressed the allegations directly.
The party chairman was set to meet Tuesday with party officials, including RPOF counsel Ben Gibson, about the sexual harassment investigation, sources tell Florida Politics. A state Senator, Gruters also was meeting with his legislative staff.
Meanwhile, three sources close to Gruters confirm a complaint was filed in January, but said an investigation was closed in March, which did not confirm any wrongdoing on his part.
Multiple sources say initial allegations arose during the 2021 Legislative Session. A report in Politico says the matter came after “a male aide offered to drive Gruters home from the bar” and Gruters allegedly sexually harassed the staffer that evening. Florida Politics has not confirmed those details.
Sources within RPOF say a complaint was filed earlier this year, prompting a third party investigation.
But other sources said the complaint was filed not by the alleged target of any alleged harassment, but by an individual to whom he had shared an account of the event. One said the RPOF brought an outside investigator in on the matter, but the key witness did not cooperate with a the investigation.
Katie Betta, deputy chief of staff for Senate President Wilton Simpson, said no investigation has been conducted within the legislative body.
“There is no complaint in the Senate,” Betta said.
Gruters allies believed the matter was closed in March, at which point RPOF Vice Chair Christian Ziegler, Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman and Republican National Committeewoman Kathleen King were first informed of the investigation. Other members of the committee did not learn about the investigation until much later, some said Tuesday.
Ziegler, a Sarasota County Commissioner and close ally of Gruters, offered a reserved comment.
“The Republican Party of Florida takes all allegations of harassment of any kind seriously and do full investigations, whatever the allegations,” Ziegler said.
Multiple allies of Gruters suggest political motivation behind the accusations surfacing now.
Gruters, formerly co-chair of President Donald Trump’s campaign in Florida, rose to state chair in 2018 and was reelected in January.
Many noted Gruters had been instrumental in organizing a Sarasota rally for the former President.
Gov. Ron DeSantis did not attend the rally because he was remaining at the time at the site of a Surfide condo collapse. That had led to friction as DeSantis hoped Trump would cancel or postpone the rally, but it went on as scheduled.
Gruters, at the rally, led cheers of “Trump 2024” and has said the President could run a successful campaign for President in three years. That’s notable considering DeSantis is also considering a run.
Officials in the Governor’s office were not sure DeSantis had even heard about an investigation.
“This is something for the Republican Party of Florida,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw. “I work in the state office so we in the state office are not involved in the political side, and this is obviously something that concerns the political side.”
Gruters was elected to the Senate in 2018 after serving one term in the Florida House, and was reelected in November. He’s the longtime chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota, and is known to have ambitions of someday running for Congress.
He’s married to Sydney Gruters, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, and the couple have three children.
Peter Schorsch and Haley Brown contributed to this report.
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