ABC News' Huma Khan reports: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said today he will reimburse the state $2,251 for using the state helicopter to attend his son’s baseball game, but he defended its use and instead blamed the media for creating “political theater.”
The state’s Republican party will pay back $1,232 to cover the cost of that trip. Christie and his wife reportedly took the helicopter from his son’s game in Montvale some 70 miles south to Princeton for a meeting with a group of Iowa activists.
“The fact is I’ve got a lot of important work to do,” Christie, a critic of wasteful spending, said today at a press conference. “And if me writing a check for $2,100 bucks and a $1,200 check from the state committee to pay for these two helicopter rides will allow us to focus on the really important issues... then I’m willing to do it.”
“I’m doing this because of the duty I feel to them [public] to have my attention... focused on the real problems of this state and not the political theater and the media theater that people enjoy,” he added.
Defending the use of the taxpayer-funded flight, Christie said he was trying to balance his responsibilities as a father with his duties as governor.
“I’m governor 24/7, every single day. But I’m also a father. And the fact of the matter is sometimes when you’re governor, you do not control your schedule,” he explained. “And so, if you want to try to do all the things that people want you to do as governor and also be a father... There are times when it is literally impossible to do that by car, and two of those instances came up in the last week.”
Christie said he was initially told by the state police that he didn’t need to pay back the state because the helicopter would have been flying anyway, a claim backed by New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes.
“It is important to understand that State Police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions, and use flight time for training purposes, more so lately as we acclimate our pilots to the new aircraft,” Fuentes said in a statement Wednesday. “These are flight hours that would be logged in any event. Therefore, there is no additional cost to taxpayers or the State Police budget, nor is there any interference with our daily mission by adding the state’s chief executive to any of these trips. Any flights transporting the Governor would be subordinated to priority needs for our aircraft including rescue and emergent law enforcement missions.”
This isn’t the first time Christie has run into the problem of overusing government resources.
In a November 2010 review by the Justice Department Inspector General, Christie is widely believed to be cited as “US Attorney C” “who most often exceeded the government rate [for lodging] without adequate justification.” http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/plus/o1011.pdf . “US Attorney C” spent above the government rate 65 percent of the time and the Justice Department IG found insufficient justification for those expenses in 14 of the 15 cases, the report stated.
Christie's office did not return calls seeking comment from ABC News about that report. ABC News’ Jason Ryan contributed to this report.