Florida GOP Chairman Joe Gruters cleared after probe into alleged sexual harassment
Joe Gruters faced accusations of sexual harassment. Image via The News Service of Florida.

gruters
"No accuser with firsthand knowledge was willing to come forward."

The Florida GOP hired a law firm that conducted a three-month investigation into sexual-harassment allegations involving party Chairman Joe Gruters but was “unable to substantiate the allegations and no accuser with firsthand knowledge was willing to come forward,” the party said in a statement Tuesday evening.

The statement came in response to Florida Politics first reporting about an allegation being leveled against Gruters.

An email blast to party members, first obtained by FP, confirmed that a third-party investigator was brought on by the party after a complaint from a male staffer was made.

“When the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) was informed of allegations made against Chairman Joe Gruters, the Executive Director and General Counsel immediately recused themselves from any investigation and hired a third-party independent law firm to conduct the investigation,” the email reads. “The RPOF was not involved in the investigation, did not direct the law firm, or limit the law firm in any way whatsoever in its investigation.”

“Following a thorough investigation lasting more than three months, the independent third party law firm reported back and informed elected RPOF officials including the Vice Chairman and National Committeeman and National Committeewoman that they were unable to substantiate the allegations and no accuser with firsthand knowledge was willing to come forward with a complaint of allegations of harassment or other misconduct.”

That confirms what many sources close to Gruters stressed throughout the day after news first broke, that any investigation of the Chair had concluded months ago. Many in the party also expressed frustration only a few in state leadership were made aware an investigation took place.

The RPOF email addresses that as well.

“Normally, such reports are given just to the Chairman, but in this instance, because the Chairman was the subject, the results of the investigation were made known to senior elected RPOF leaders,” the email continues. “The independent third party law firm was unable to obtain any firsthand information substantiating the information or corroborating the allegations made. Based on these findings, the RPOF had no basis on which to take any further action.

“When a complaint or allegation of harassment of any kind is received, it is treated under the long-standing Republican Party of Florida’s Whistleblower Policy. It is the Policy of RPOF to investigate, and appropriately respond to claims, complaints and allegations against RPOF employees and officers. If the RPOF receives an allegation or complaint, our Policy calls for an investigation to be completed. It is also the Policy to keep such information confidential to protect the integrity of any investigation and to protect the rights of both the accuser and the accused.”

The message hit inboxes at the end of a tumultuous day in Florida Republican politics after FP broke news of the allegations.

Gruters released a statement Tuesday morning saying he knew of no open investigations by the state party into any allegations against him.

“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.”

Those comments came after RPOF officials confirmed there had been an investigation.

“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, in a media statement. “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.”

Those same comments appeared in the email to party members.

Gruters concurred with the statement overall.

“I fully agree with the statement from the RPOF and agree with its sentiment,” Gruters said.

The party chairman was set to meet Tuesday with party officials, including RPOF counsel Ben Gibson, about the sexual harassment investigation, sources told Florida Politics. A state Senator, Gruters also met with his legislative staff.

Meanwhile, three sources close to Gruters confirmed a complaint was filed in January, but said an investigation had closed in March. The investigation did not confirm any wrongdoing on Gruters’ part, the sources said.

Multiple sources say initial allegations arose around the time of 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 said the complaint was filed not by the alleged target of any alleged harassment, but by an individual with whom he had shared an account of the event. One said after the RPOF brought an outside investigator in on the matter, the key witness did not cooperate with the investigation.

That seemed to be confirmed by the email blast that stated no one with first-hand knowledge of harassment would participate in an inquiry.

Katie Betta, deputy chief of staff for Senate President Wilton Simpson, said no investigation was ever conducted within the legislative body.

“There is no complaint in the Senate,” Betta said.

Again, 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. Rumors about an investigation began to spread in party circles late last week.

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.

Some sources critical of Gruters maintained some alarm that no one on the executive committee besides Ziegler, Feaman and King had been informed of the allegations or that an investigation had even taken place. One source close to Gruters said even he only learned of the investigation last week.

Multiple Gruters allies suggested political motivation was behind 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 weeks ago.

Gov. Ron DeSantis did not attend the rally because he was remaining at the time at the site of a Surfide condo collapse. That 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.”

Sarasota Democrats suggested in a statement the significance of accusations may be lost and focused on the need to treat sexual harassment seriously.

“The Sarasota County Democratic Party is disturbed by the allegations of sexual harassment against State Senator and Florida Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters,” reads a statement from Sarasota Democratic Party Chair JoAnne DeVries. “Sexual harassment is always unacceptable — in a political party, workplace, or anywhere else. We understand how difficult it is for victims of sexual harassment to come forward, and we always support a full and thorough investigation of such matters.”

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. The story was bolstered by reporting by the News Service of Florda.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


25 comments

  • Joe Hill

    July 20, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Well, well, well. If it isn’t yet another case of a virulently hate-filled Republican with some of his own peccadilloes/skeletons in his own closet. Let’s not forget this guy is an open white nationalist who spews hate against immigrants and also organized buses and participation for the January 6 festivities.

  • Siegfried

    July 20, 2021 at 10:17 am

    Uuummm . . . notably short on detail. While I suspect the allegations are valid, it would be kind of nice to know just what they are.

  • Tom Palmer

    July 20, 2021 at 11:54 am

    To be fair, let’s wait until more details emerge before jumping to conclusions.

    • Eric Rollings

      July 20, 2021 at 1:34 pm

      Said no Republicans ever!

  • M. Lewis

    July 20, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    Joe’s district (Sarasota) is one that may get the new Congressional seat. This could very well be an orchestrated political attack to take him down ahead of a potential primary where he’d be a very strong candidate after handing Trump Florida in 2020. Either way, it should be investigated to the fullest extent as Joe stated himself, these matters are very serious.

  • Searcher59

    July 20, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    Did you ever notice that the GQP has a much BIGGER problem with GAY sex scandals? This guy, Hastert, Foley, etc…

    • zhombre

      July 20, 2021 at 3:05 pm

      Don’t forget the guy at the Lincoln Project.

      • Tom Palmer

        July 20, 2021 at 4:28 pm

        You mean Trump?

        • zhombre

          July 20, 2021 at 5:50 pm

          No, slick, I referred to John Weaver, one of the creepy never trumpers among the vicious pack of grifters who sully the name of Lincoln by using it for their scam organization.

  • Ed

    July 20, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    I’ll let all of you get excited over this. What excites me is these Texas Democrats basically AWOL and infecting fellow Democrats with Covid in D.C. A big party at my house if Pelosi catches Covid. By the way to my Texas Democrats on hiatus, at current projections over 2 million illegals will enter the the U.S. from the Southern Border. Meanwhile the traitors flee their state, drinking beer, flying with no mask on, and collecting over $200 per day in per diem.

    • Eric Rollings

      July 20, 2021 at 1:37 pm

      Sure, try to distract from the story. Lol. Keep grinding out your hateful spew. I’m sure you’re defending all the rednecks that Trump sent to kill people at the Capitol.

      • Ed

        July 20, 2021 at 2:07 pm

        How about you defending the riots and destruction of major metropolitan cities run by Democrats?

        • tjb

          July 21, 2021 at 8:38 am

          Ed, who attacked our Capitol, the most recognized symbol of democratic government in the world. How many people died from the attack on the Capitol on Jan 6th?
          Also, back to the article, I bet DeSantis’s staff started the allegations against Joe Gruters. The treacherous lies of Roger Stone, Lee Atwaters, and Karl Rove lives on. DeSantis wants no competition.

  • Professor Michael

    July 20, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    Yet another conservative family-values Republican, a guy who notoriously wraps himself in the flag and hides behind the Bible. Good grief.

  • Ricky

    July 20, 2021 at 3:05 pm

    “Republican Party officials take ‘all allegations of harassment of any kind seriously.'”

    Hello, Matt Gaetz? If they are serious about the allegations, they are OK with Matt being a pedophile.

  • Ocean Joe

    July 20, 2021 at 3:16 pm

    It wasn’t Gruters…it was ANTIFA!

  • Tom Palmer

    July 20, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    Sounds like I was right. This was a nothingburger. It is really unfair to take vague allegations seriously until the facts are in.

  • Ed

    July 20, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    Democrats having a big slice of humble pie. Now let’s get back to the rogue Texas Democrats super spreading Covid in DC. KARMA.

  • Cinforoso

    July 20, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    The favorite weapon of the left – using fake allegations of sexual misconduct to disparage those they disagree with. And, despite the 3 month investigation being unsubstantiated, leftists keep talking as if he is guilty.

    • Ocean Joe

      July 21, 2021 at 6:42 am

      You could also say it was a weak, inconclusive, low energy “investigation” if the victim refused to cooperate. Maybe even designed to cleanse. Aside from comments pointing out the irony of a flag waver in trouble, this whole thing was brewed up on the right and happily leaked to the press by the right.
      Hope the “staffer” got to keep his job.

      • Ocean Joe

        July 21, 2021 at 9:41 am

        Would add: the “victim” probably went home that night, and shared with his girlfriend or roommate, likely another GOP staffer type, who spread the info till it reached somebody not fond of Gruters who knew how to make a mountain out of it and did so. We see a lot of this in domestic battery cases, where the victim refuses to testify and recants, and in some cases where the victim was no victim at all.

    • Tom Palmer

      July 21, 2021 at 5:27 pm

      Reps use red-baiting. It’s all silly

  • zhombre

    July 21, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    Even Peter Schorsch who writes for this forum wrote off this blatant hit job as a “political hatchet job … noteworthy, if only for its ineptitude.” But the partisan cicadas and boobs above, gullible and biased as they, puked out their predictable bile (notable exception: Tom Palmer). The rest of you can choke on your bile.

  • Sandy

    July 27, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Democrats send themselves flowers too

Comments are closed.


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