Unapologetic, Christie reimburses state and explains Coptergate

Gov. Chris Christie answers a question Thursday, June 2, 2011, in Denville, N.J., as he says he used a state police helicopter for two personal trips, including to fly to his son's baseball game. Christie and the State Republican Committee are reimbursing the state for the governor's personal use of the helicopter. (AP Photo / Mel Evans)

DENVILLE, N.J. — Gov. Christie has reimbursed the state for two helicopter rides that he took to his son’s baseball games, but in addressing the controversy head-on this afternoon he said the rides were still justified, appropriate and legal.

"I don't use it to joy ride around New Jersey," Christie said of the brand-new $12.5 million state police helicopter. "I use it when I absolutely need to do it, when my schedule puts so many demands on me theres no other way."

For the first time since the story — and pictures — of Christie arrival from the sky at the baseball game surfaced on Tuesday, Christie held a press conference attended by more than two dozen journalists. He answered questions for more than a half-hour, calmly and sometimes humorously, and never apologized.

He also detailed his demanding schedule, saying he had three pressing engagements on Tuesday. First, he wanted to watch the first hearing for his nominee for the Supreme Court, Anne Patterson, whom he had nominated more than a year earlier. That hearing began after 2 pm.

Secondly, he wanted to see what might have been the last playoff game for his son, who had become starting catcher of his high school baseball team after starting the season on the bench.

And finally, he wanted to keep an engagement he had with a group of Republican Iowa fundraisers, whom he had scheduled dinner for at the governor's mansion in Princeton in the early evening.

Afterward, he said, his son, Andrew, said: "Dad, thanks for coming."

In a sign of how quickly this story buzzed through the national and social media, CNN carried part of the press conference live.

Christie’s office also released Thursday a log of the 35 helicopter trips the governor has taken since he came to office in 2010, including a second baseball game last week. That trip had not been reported before.

The Republican governor acknowledged that the pictures of him getting out of the chopper and reports of him taking a black vehicle with tinted windows the final 300 feet to the baseball field reflected poorly on the cost-cutting fiscal conservative.

“Perception matters,” he said. “So if by writing this check today people feel better...great, that’s fine by me. But I don’t want them to be confused by the fact that this cost them anything additional, because it didn’t.”

As the superintendent of the state police noted yesterday, the helicopters are flown every day anyway — so there is no additional expense for taxpayers, he said.

Christie said he wrote a check to the state for $2,151.50 for the trips to Tuesday's games, and one last Friday. The state Republican Committee will pay $1,232 to cover teh cost of the final leg on Tuesday, which took him and his wife to meet with the Iowans.