Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters dismissed a sexual harassment complaint as part of a “smear campaign” against him during a conference call with RPOF executive committee members, while also discouraging infighting about it within the state party.
“I’m asking everyone to stay focused on 2022,” he said. “No finger-pointing and playing the blame game.”
That comes amid broad speculation both about the nature of a sexual harassment complaint and how the party handled the matter. The complaint was made early this year, not by the subject of the alleged harassment but an associate who heard about it. The Republican Party of Florida staff, without notifying executive committee members, hired a third-party investigator who, after three months, said no first-hand witnesses would corroborate the allegation.
Many committee members expressed frustration the investigation occurred without many people’s knowledge and the finding clearing Gruters did not become public until months later.
When the investigation wrapped, high-ranking staff informed RPOF Vice Chair Christian Ziegler, Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman and Republican National Committeewoman Kathleen King of its conclusion. But sources closer to Gruters said he did not even learn until much later that the investigation had been opened or a complaint had been made.
Yet, when news broke of the complaint, sources inconsistently reported whether an investigation remained open. RPOF Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferré and Ziegler initially released statements that made clear any accusation would be “taken seriously” and fully investigated, but did not mention the investigation had already concluded and cleared Gruters.
The handling of the leak sparked questions about how the information had publicly unrolled and how prepared the party was with any explanation.
But Gruters did not delve into the specifics on the call with committee members. Aware reporters were on the call, he kept the call short and took no questions from members. Rather, he spent much of the call discussing a $10 million investment the Republican National Committee plans to make ahead of the midterms, when Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio appear on the ballot, and on efforts to retake majorities on nonpartisan school boards around the state.
Regarding the accusation, Gruters characterized that as part of the “messy business” of politics. He referred to the complaint as a “false accusation.”
“Especially when you’ve had the success we’ve had, you can become the subject of a smear campaign,” he said.