Monday, September 22, 2014
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Coptergate hearings: NJ top cop on the hot seat

State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes is elaborating on his previous explanation for transporting the governor to the ball game. He says that not only do the state police's 36 pilots need to log training hours on its 10 helicopters, but while in the air the pilots do myriad other missions at the same time. Of the 35 copter rides by the governor and his staff since he came into office in January 2010, 27 of those trips were also used for at least two other State Police missions, Fuentes said.

Coptergate hearings: NJ top cop on the hot seat

Gov. Christie arrived via state helicopter to watch his son play in a high school baseball game. (Christopher Costa / Ridgewood.Patch.com)
Gov. Christie arrived via state helicopter to watch his son play in a high school baseball game. (Christopher Costa / Ridgewood.Patch.com)

"We multitask."

That, according to the superintendent of the state police, is why the transport of governors via helicopter is not a waste of time or money.

I'm at a hearing right now convened by New Jersey Assembly Democrats to discuss Gov. Christie's highly controversial and highly publicized helicopter trips to two of his son's high school playoff baseball games.

State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes is elaborating on his previous explanation for transporting the governor to the ball games. He says that not only do the state police's 36 pilots need to log training hours on 10 helicopters, but while in the air the pilots do myriad other missions at the same time. Of the 35 copter rides by the governor and his staff since he came into office in January 2010, 27 of those trips were also used for at least two other State Police missions, Fuentes said.

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Primarily, they're doing homeland security missions to check out major points of infrastructure like chemical plants, refineries, bridges, airports and "the densest highway system in the country, bar none."

The helicopters are also used for surveillance, to drop off officers for missions (like busting a drug ring at a high-rise in Camden) and to look for missing boaters off the Shore.

After an uproar that made national news, the gov reimbursed the state $2,150.50 for the trips to the two baseball games and had the state Republican committee pay $1,232 for a trip from the baseball game to the governor's mansion, where he had a dinner with Iowan GOP fundraisers who had come to beg him to run for president.

At the hearing, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D., Gloucester) said Christie "probably paid more politically than the check to the state police." He said he understood the need to transport the governor via helicopter, but questioned why a flight log released last week had the names of passengers redacted. Fuentes said that many of those passengers were part of the governor's security detail, and releasing their names would undermine those officers' safety.

Republican Assemblyman Alex DeCroce (R., Morris) issued a statement before the hearing, calling Coptergate a fabricated controversy and saying:  “Assembly Democrats won’t do the jobs they were elected to do – reform property taxes and public employee benefits – but howl like the dickens to try to invent issues to try to take cheap shots and embarrass the Governor."

Below, on a clip from a CNN interview airing at 9 pm tonight, Christie says - quite characteristically - that if given the choice he would do Coptergate all over again.

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