New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he makes “no apologies” for using a state police helicopter to get to his son’s baseball game and would do it again -- at his own expense.
“I’m not admitting that it was wrong,” Christie, a first- term Republican, told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an interview to be broadcast tonight. An excerpt of the hour-long chat was posted on CNN’s website.
Christie also said during the interview that Republicans don’t “have a best option yet” for defeating President Barack Obama in 2012. He said he is “100 percent certain” he won’t run next year, according to a transcript provided by CNN.
The governor, who has asked workers to give up benefits as part of “shared sacrifice” in cutting the cost of government, used a chopper to travel from Trenton to Montvale on May 31 to watch his son play catcher, and then flew to Princeton for a meeting with Iowa Republicans. State Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski called the ride on the $12.5 million aircraft “hypocrisy” after the governor criticized state spending and targeted public officials who abuse perks.
“If the public perceives for a moment that I’m using that as a perk of office, then I want to take that away from them right away,” Christie, 48, told Morgan. “But I would not make a different decision if I had to do it again, because it was important for me as a father to be there for my son.”
Morgan, who referred to the incident as “Choppergate,” went to Christie’s high school and his home for the interview, where he met his wife and children, according to CNN’s website.
New Jersey Republicans and Christie said June 2 that they reimbursed $3,383.79 to taxpayers for the governor’s use of the helicopter on May 31 as well as for another flight to a May 27 ballgame.
The state Assembly Homeland Security Committee is meeting today to study the procedures governing the use of state helicopters. State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes is expected to testify at the hearing in the Statehouse.
Fuentes has said there was no additional cost to taxpayers of having Christie aboard state police helicopters because they fly daily for homeland security missions or training.
When asked by Morgan why he chose to use the helicopter, Christie, who has four children, said it was “because I’m a father first.”
“I had demands at the Statehouse and demands that evening that had been preplanned before I knew my son would have a state championship baseball game,” he said. “And I wanted to be there for him. I miss a lot of stuff with my kids. I’m not complaining. That’s the nature of my job, and I asked for this job, in fact, I worked hard to get it. But I’m a father first, and that was the way I could get to my son’s game that day.”
During the meeting after the game, the Iowa delegation tried unsuccessfully to get Christie to run for president. Christie has met with former Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota to discuss their bids. He said he isn’t ready to make an endorsement in the race.
Seven Republican presidential candidates attacked Obama’s economic record yesterday during the first major debate of the campaign season. Romney, Pawlenty, U.S. Representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and former talk-radio host Herman Cain all took part in the debate.
“A lot of those folks impress me personally, but none of them have emerged in my mind yet as the best option,” Christie said in the interview. “When one of them do, I’ll say it publicly but I’m not ready to do that yet because I don’t think any of them have yet distinguished themselves to say this is the best person, not only to take on Barack Obama but, more importantly, to lead our nation.”
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