Christie Won’t Apologize for Helicopter, Will Pay

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at a Reform Agenda Town Hall meeting at the New Jersey Manufacturers Company facility March 29, 2011 in Hammonton, New Jersey. Photographer by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images Close

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at a Reform Agenda Town Hall meeting at the... Read More

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at a Reform Agenda Town Hall meeting at the New Jersey Manufacturers Company facility March 29, 2011 in Hammonton, New Jersey. Photographer by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

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, 48, 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 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.”

‘Choppergate’ Incident

Morgan, who referred to the incident as “Choppergate,” went to Christie’s high school and his home for the interview, meeting the governor’s wife and children, CNN said on its site.

New Jersey Republicans and Christie said June 2 that they reimbursed $3,383.79 for the governor’s use of the helicopter on May 31 as well as for another flight to a May 27 ballgame.

State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes, during a hearing lawmakers held today to discuss Christie’s aircraft use, said the flights didn’t cost taxpayers extra because pilots are in the air daily on homeland security missions or training.

Flying is often a safer alternative then transporting governors over congested highways, Fuentes said. In 2007, Christie’s predecessor, Jon Corzine, nearly died after his trooper-driven vehicle crashed on the Garden State Parkway while headed to a meeting in Princeton.

‘Father First’

“The nature of the governor’s trips is none of my business,” Fuentes said in more than an hour of testimony. “We do not ask the purpose. We just make it happen.”

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 campaigns for the office. He said he isn’t ready to make an endorsement in the race.

Picking on Obama

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, Newt Gingrich, a past Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, 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.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Stacie Servetah in Trenton at sbabula@bloomberg.net; Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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