Marines Say Military Helicopter Did Not Hover Low Over Trump Campaign Rally

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President Donald Trump leaves a campaign rally on Marine One helicopter
President Donald Trump leaves a campaign rally on Marine One helicopter Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in The Villages, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

A video shared by President Donald Trump this week prompted new questions about the use of military aircraft at political campaign rallies.

Trump on Wednesday shared a Twitter video appearing to compare the crowd sizes at one of his campaign rallies to a socially distanced event held by former Vice President Joe Biden.

The video of Trump's campaign, taken during an Oct. 23 rally in The Villages retirement community in Sumter County, Florida, appears to show the Marine One presidential helicopter hovering low over a cheering crowd while Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" plays in the background.

But the Marine Corps says the angle at which the video was taken doesn't show the full picture.

"The flight did not fly over (or hover over) the assembled crowd," Capt. Joe Butterfield, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, said. "The entire flight was conducted in accordance with U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps regulations, operating procedures and safety protocols."

Marine One, which is flown by members of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, landed at a safe distance from the crowd, he added, which the camera angle "does not appear to fully capture."

Footage from central Florida's Spectrum News 13, which captured the helo's approach from another angle, shows Marine One landing in a green space in front of the rally.

"In accordance with U.S. Navy regulations, no review or investigation is necessary," Butterfield said.

The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about the aircraft's movements or the decision to have a Marine Corps aircraft appear so prominently at a political campaign event, given the military's nonpartisan status.

The iconic Air Force One jet routinely appears behind Trump at political campaign rallies, and has for other politicians, too. Presidents can use the plane to travel to campaign events. Whether the aircraft should be featured at those events is debated by experts.

Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer and law professor, told The Washington Post in 2017 that presidents should put some distance between a political speech and famous taxpayer-funded aircraft.

"They can do all of the theatrics, but when he gives the speech, the plane should be to the side," Painter told the Post.

When Hillary Clinton accompanied then-President Barack Obama on Air Force One in 2016 when the two appeared together at a North Carolina campaign rally, Trump slammed the trip.

"Taxpayers are paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One on the campaign trail by President Obama and Crooked Hillary," he tweeted at the time. "A total disgrace!"

When an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon was scrambled Wednesday to intercept a civilian aircraft flying near a Trump campaign rally in Arizona, it set off flares to get the aircraft's attention. Trump, who heard the aircraft while giving a speech on the ground, told the crowd the fighter was giving "the president a little display" after white streams from the flares appeared in the sky.

This is the second time a military helicopter's movements near crowds have raised questions in recent months. An investigation was launched in June after videos emerged of Army National Guard helicopters appearing to fly dangerously low over protesters in Washington, D.C., kicking up debris around demonstrators.

Results of that investigation have not been released to the public.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: F-16 Fighter Jet Fires Flares at Unauthorized Aircraft Near Trump Rally

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