updated 1/17/2014 1:01:12 PM ET 2014-01-17T18:01:12

THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
January 16, 2014

Guests: Vincent Prieto, Hunter Walker, Nick Acocella, Ken Vogel, Troy
Simon, Justin Porter


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: The New Jersey legislature started issuing
subpoenas today and Chris Christie hired himself a team of lawyers today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We start with the investigation of New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three separate investigations going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new state legislature convenes for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Chris Christie`s administration will be
getting subpoenas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two new committees to be granted subpoena power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raising concerns about the cost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assemblyman John Wisniewski has done a great job, along
with Senator Loretta Weinberg.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s more ambitious than we were expecting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The administration has now hired a legal team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The governor announced his legal team.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To look into whether any wrongdoing happened
internally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As for the governor --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s back to normal today.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Whatever test they put in front of
me, I will meet those tests because I`m doing it on your behalf.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s doing just what he said he would do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going to the Jersey shore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to get back to regular business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going to Florida for Republican fundraisers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s a guy who can raise the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s doing what he can do to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s doing what he can do to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Surrounded by the backdrop of his office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chris Christie tries to get back to governing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to get back to regular business in the state
of New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: Chris Christie went back to doing what he does best today --
talking about Hurricane Sandy. He went to the Jersey shore to talk about
how much progress has been made in rebuilding from the damage of the
hurricane and he never, never said a word about that other thing -- you
know, the biggest story of the year in New Jersey.

But he did seem to be trying to rebuild confidence in him and team
Christie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: No one, I can assure you, ever told me or anybody on my team
that it`s going to be easy. Hasn`t been up to this point and there`s all
kinds of challenges, as you know. That come every day out of nowhere, to
test you.

And whatever tests they put in front of me, I will meet those tests because
I`m doing it on your behalf. When you take that oath, it`s not -- the tag
line at the end is, it`s not "if everything goes the way it`s supposed to."
The tag line at the end is, "so help me God", right? And I think all of us
have thought about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The Christie administration announced today that they have
hired a New Jersey -- at New Jersey taxpayers` expense, a team of lawyers
to represent the governor in the investigations. That team will be headed
by Randy Mastro, who was New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani`s chief of staff and
deputy mayor in Rudy Giuliani`s administration.

Governor Christie`s fired deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, has
also hired an attorney, who is no doubt schooling her in the finer points
of the Fifth Amendment. The New Jersey general assembly`s special
committee officially announced they are issuing 20 subpoenas today, 17 of
those to individuals, including David Samson, the chairman of the Port
Authority, and Regina Egea, Christie`s next chief of staff, as well as two
fired staffers, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien.

The subpoenas are expected to include his campaign -- from the Christie
campaign office, administration and Port Authority.

Although Governor Christie has not yet been subpoenaed, John Wisniewski
would not rule out the option, and if Governor Christie was hoping for a
quick end to the investigation, the chairman of the special committee is
refusing to give a time line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WISNIEWSKI: We don`t know how long this process will take. You know, one
of my colleagues on the floor said that this should be concluded -- I think
he used 90 days a time frame. If that were possible, that would be great.
It`s also entirely possible he could get to the end of two years and not
have all the answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now is Vincent De Prieto, speaker of the New Jersey
general assembly, Hunter Walker who has been covering the story extensively
for "Talking Points Memo", and Nick Acocella, editor and publisher of
"Politifax New Jersey".

Mr. Speaker, with these subpoenas now flowing, do you -- do you still
expect full cooperation from Governor Christie?

STATE REP. VINCENT PRIETO (D-NJ), ASSEMBLY SPEAKER: I always expect that
they`re going to cooperate with us. I think they have a time frame of I
think two weeks to actually respond. And hopefully we`ll get some answers
to the much more questions we have.

We haven`t gotten too many answers. And the trail led into the governor`s
office, and we want to see to make sure that this, you know, abuse of
power, we can find where it came from.

O`DONNELL: Now, the governor has hired this team of lawyers. And they say
it`s just to comply with document responses and document searches. Do you
think it was necessary to hire a new team of outside lawyers just to
respond to your requests for basic information?

PRIETO: I originally thought they were doing an internal investigation in
their office, but I think that, you know, they should be able to use, you
know, their own staff to be able to compile the data that we`re looking
for. And, you know, if we didn`t release the names today, a lot of it is
speculation of the subpoenas.

We wanted to give the privacy to people.

So, we`re doing this in a professional matter and we just want to get to
the bottom of it and see where the trail leads.

O`DONNELL: You didn`t release the names but there`s a list of names
because the Hunter Walkers of the world keep digging.

Hunter, the names that according to "Politicker New Jersey", Kevin O`Dowd,
chief of staff ,David Samson, from the Port Authority, Bridget Anne Kelly,
obviously, Bill Stepien, Charlie McKenna, who was the governor`s counsel,
the incoming chief of staff, Michael Drewniak, the press secretary, Bill
Baroni, Patrick Foye who is the kind of truth teller in the middle of this
story at the Port Authority. People remember he`s the one who wrote the
memo when he discovered this saying it was outrageous and looked like it
was a violation of law.

This list that we`re seeing looks like the basic first stage that you would
go to, especially most of these names appearing on the e-mails that we`ve
seen, and authoring most of the e-mails that we`ve seen.

HUNTER WALKER, TPM: Absolutely. You know, I`ve talked extensively with
Assemblyman Wisniewski, who`s chairing the assembly committee that`s doing
their investigation, and also Senator Weinberg, who`s chairing the Senate
committee.

And both of them have indicated to me that there`s going to be sort of a
round one here. None of them would rule out that this could eventually go
up to the governor, but they`re kind of not running straight to that door.
And they`re hitting this round of people first.

O`DONNELL: Well, in the case, everyone knows in a normal evolution of an
investigation, there`s always the biggest possible target. You know, the
kingpin in the mob investigation. And they never start there, they always
kind of work their way up because they expect, as they work their way up
the chain, some of the underlings will start to give up things that they
need.

NICK ACOCELLA, POLITIFAX NJ: The way you approach something like this.
It`s like an onion with a rotten outside. You peel away one layer at a
time. And maybe, you know, you get all the rotten layers out and you can
use, you know, what`s left.

You don`t just take a mallet and smash the onion and render it useless.
You peel away very slowly. I think the assembly should be commended for
doing exactly that, going very cautiously, very carefully.

O`DONNELL: I want to get back to this cooperation thing. I`m not as
convinced that the governor is going to cooperate.

He issued a statement today saying, "Governor Christie made clear last week
that he will conduct an internal review to uncover the facts surrounding
the lane closures in Fort Lee."

And, by the way, I just want to stop about that. There`s something awfully
peculiar about that, because the reason he gave us that he didn`t conduct
an immediate review with Bridget Anne Kelly about why did you write that
email is he said he didn`t want to tamper with any of the witnesses you
might be calling. Now he`s saying I`m going to go in there and talk to
these people in a way I was afraid to before, but now we`re going to do it.
Isn`t that inconsistent with the reason before he said he didn`t ask
Bridget Anne Kelly questions?

PRIETO: Yes, it would appear so. I would have thought he would have a
conversation in at least, you know, to find out something. That`s why we
hired special counsel, to make sure we proceed in a mindful manner. So,
when we get these individual, we try to get these answers.

But it`s kind of interesting, that dynamic that now they`re doing their own
investigation. But I gather maybe they`re bringing somebody from the
outside. So it`s just mind boggling.

O`DONNELL: And then the rest of the statement, I just need to get here.
The administration`s fully cooperating with the U.S. attorney inquiry and
other appropriate inquiries and requests for information. He does not say
that he will cooperate with your inquiry.

PRIETO: Yes, that proper investigation is kind of concerning to me,
because I think we are proper, we are the legislature and we do need to
find out and get to the bottom of this. Actually, the committee, the
transportation committee in the last session did a great job under Chairman
Wisniewski and we wanted to keep that going and we created a special
committee because now it`s way beyond transportation and just the Port
Authority because we saw that it led into the governor`s office.

So, it`s very important to us to make sure we`re one of those proper, you
know, authorities doing the investigation. And I think we are.

O`DONNELL: And, Nick, in a much ignored moment in the press conference
last week, someone actually asked him, will you comply with subpoenas? And
he would not answer. He didn`t say yes or no. He said, well, I`ll have to
think about that when that comes up.

It would have been very easy to say, of course, why would I snot.

ACOCELLA: He`s a very cautious guy. He`s a trained lawyer and he`s going
to talk lawyer talk.

We don`t know what he`s going to do. You know what? We don`t know
anything yet.

All we know is what David Wildstein wants us to know. Every piece of paper
we have came from the papers that he submitted to the committee. And I`m
assuming the committee didn`t leak them.

O`DONNELL: Right.

ACOCELLA: So everything we know is what David Wildstein wants us to know.
I think a lot of it is him hinting to the U.S. attorney that I`ve got more
on this person if you come to me with an offer.

O`DONNELL: And, Hunter, David Wildstein publicly kind of begging through
his lawyer for immunity and suggesting in that begging publicly on
television last week that there could be much more from David Wildstein if
they would just make him immune from state or federal prosecution.

WALKER: Well, just to go back to your first point about cooperation. You
know, this attorney that Christie brought in to lead the team for the
administration, on his company Web site, he boasts that he`s a,
quote/unquote, "alligator" and has a reputation for being merciless. We
have a profile on him coming out tomorrow.

I don`t think you bring in someone like that if you`re preparing to be
forthcoming. But, you know, the assembly has also brought in a special
counsel, and I think part of the purpose of that might be that this person
can help offer immunity, whereas before, it would have been a question of,
you know, the prosecuting agency needs to offer immunity. And they`re just
an investigatory committee.

But he could kind of broker that deal. We really could see people starting
to make deals in the coming weeks.

O`DONNELL: Nick, where would you start? If you were -- given the diagram
that we know now, I mean, what would be -- what do you think is the most
valuable offer of immunity if you could make one right now.

ACOCELLA: Offer of immunity? Well, I think it would be Wildstein, because
from my money, he -- everybody has got power relationships among these
people overall.

I mean, Kelly may have been the deputy chief of staff but she`s not in the
power in this.

O`DONNELL: Right.

ACOCELLA: Stepien had power and Wildstein had power.

O`DONNELL: What about Kevin O`Dowd, the chief of staff, the boss of Kelly?

ACOCELLA: We don`t know about whether he did anything yet. We know the
rumor is that he`s the one who interviewed Kelly when everybody had one
hour to fess up. I don`t know. I don`t know. Maybe he`s one of the
people you go do, but right now, all we know is what David Wildstein told
us. And Stepien and Wildstein are the two people who know the most about
this.

O`DONNELL: Mr. Speaker, do you think there`s a reasonable timetable that
should be -- that you should be shooting for on this investigation? I
understand that, you know, it might have to change. But what do you think
in terms of serving the public in this investigation would be a reasonable
timetable?

PRIETO: Well, that`s really something that`s an open-ended question,
because it could be weeks. It could be some months. Obviously, it could
be how quickly we get back the information we`re looking at. And there
were a lot of e-mails that were redacted.

So, only things that pertain to the Port Authority. Now, we`re going a
little further into that. Since it went into the governor`s office.

O`DONNELL: And will the testimony be under oath in these committees?

PRIETO: When we do have them coming in under subpoena, they will be under
oath.

O`DONNELL: Now, let`s assume that not everyone takes the Fifth Amendment
and there`s a certain body of evidence that develops. And that Kevin
O`Dowd and let`s say Kelly, these people say, I never told the governor
anything about this. Wouldn`t you then also need to have the governor sit
there and answer the question, the very same question? Did anyone tell you
about this and answer that question under oath?

PRIETO: Well, we`re not there yet. And obviously we have to get the
information and then get the individuals to come before the committee and
then we`ll -- you know, I`m always very mindful because, you know, we take
everybody at their word.

But obviously, this is going to play itself out. It`s where the bread
crumbs led into the governor`s office. And we want to see if it expands
maybe even outside of there.

So we`ll find out.

O`DONNELL: New Jersey assembly speaker, Vincent Prieto, Hunter Walker, and
Nick Acocella, thank you all very much for joining me tonight.

Coming up, Chris Christie is taking his crippled presidential campaign to
Florida this weekend to beg Republican billionaires not to abandon him.

And later, the most important thing that happened in Washington, D.C.
today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE-NIGHT HOST/COMEDIAN: How about that Chris Christie,
ladies and gentlemen. The governor of --

(APPLAUSE)

Yesterday, he had the annual State of the State Address, and he said, he
emphasized that he has stopped singlehandedly, Chris Christie has stopped
jobs from leaving New Jersey. Of course, he closed the bridge!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

REPORTER: Governor, can you be as effective (INAUDIBLE) investigation?

(CROSSTALK)

REPORTER: -- the e-mails released this week?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Everywhere Chris Christie goes, reporters are following him
with questions about the New Jersey bridge scandal and they will surely
follow him to Florida this weekend. Governor Christie will attend a
fundraiser for Florida`s Republican Governor Rick Scott.

And then Sunday night, the billionaire founder of Home Depot is holding an
event to Christie to, quote, "rub elbows is dozens of America`s richest
Republicans." Reports say 500 donors asked to attend.

But in the wake of the bridge scandal, "Politico`s" Ken Vogel reports,
"Several fundraisers and donors said the smart money is sitting back and
waiting to see how the bridge scandal unfolds, potentially giving advantage
to the prospective 2016 rivals in their efforts to win mega donor support.
One GOP finance operative who met with Christie acknowledged that it`s been
a major topic of conversation among top donors, bit even Christie boosters
worried about its impact. Christie`s marathon apology press conference
last week did little to quiet such concerns. According to the operative
who said several donors noted Christie`s references to his own
embarrassment. I had a donor say, `Well, who gives a -- about you. What
about all the people who were stuck on the bridge?`"

Joining me now is "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson and chief
investigative reporter for "Politico", Ken Vogel.

Ken, in these situations, the people on the money end of the Republican
Party will generally want to present a more positive picture than the
reality. I`m surprised you managed to get kind of the grumbling that you
did get in that article.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Yes, what was really surprising, Lawrence, is that a
lot of these folks were involved in effort to woo Chris Christie into the
2012 race. And, of course, the fact that all these mega donors were behind
him or suggesting they would be behind a potential presidential campaign is
one of the main arguments for his candidacy, and it`s an important one
given that in the super PAC, post-Citizens United age, every other
candidate is going to have their own super PAC.

So, he needs these donors. And it`s no accident that this event scheduled
at Ken Langone`s house, the co-founder of Home Depot, on Sunday is sort of
scheduled for what is really from a lot of GOP finance operatives`
perspective, the start of the campaign to go ahead and build a mega donor
base.

So, he`s got a lot of work to do with these folks. And it`s not too early
to be worried about it.

O`DONNELL: Yes, this is absolutely step one in a presidential campaign.
And can you point out something in your article that I think is really
fascinating and important for people to remember? That in the perception
of a lot of these campaign investors, Chris Christie hurt their last
investment, Mitt Romney very badly.

You write, "Christie already had some work to do getting in the good graces
of some Romney supporters who still harbor a grudge over what they saw as
Christie`s undercutting Romney in the 2012 campaign, most notably
bolstering President Barack Obama`s bipartisan bona fides in the days after
Superstorm Sandy."

Eugene Robinson, it all seems to come back to Superstorm Sandy for Chris
Christie, as it did today. He tried to relive those days.

But that`s something that a lot of people haven`t gotten over. And I think
if you invest in a huge amount of money in the Romney campaign, you might
still not have gotten over it.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s true. This Republican love for
Chris Christie as the potential savior in 2016, it`s a real thing, and I
think there are a lot of people, including mega donors who feel that way.
But it`s not that deep. It`s tenuous and tentative and kind of based on
what happens.

And certainly now based on what happens as this investigation plays out.
So there`s no sort of cemented love there. And people can turn away
frankly if this goes south for Christie.

O`DONNELL: Ken, when you talk to these big Republican donors, how sharp
are they as political analysts? I mean, are they as sharp about the way
they invest in politics compared to the way they`ve obviously very
successfully invested in creating their own wealth?

VOGEL: I mean, it runs the gamut. A lot of them are sort of hobbyists who
go with their gut and they get a feeling about someone and they really want
to give to that person regardless of sort of the cold, hard calculations as
to that candidate`s viability.

A lot of them, however, are very astute followers of this stuff. And
that`s where Christie really has the most risk. Among the folks who are
looking for the most viable candidate to take on a Hillary Clinton or
whomever might merge from a Democratic primary.

And for them, the appeal of Chris Christie was really this notion of him as
a no-nonsense, decisive executive who could really cut through all the
partisan B.S. and clearly, this scandal undercuts that significantly. And
so, they`re the ones who he`s working to sort of assuage their concerns.
And they`re the ones waiting to see what comes of this bridge investigation
because, of course, you know, if it links back to him, as one donor put to
me, he`s dead meat.

O`DONNELL: Well, you know, I don`t think in political terms it has to get
any worse for him than it is right now. I just wrote and produced a little
example attack ad on Christie that we ran on this show last night. Just
using the words he said in that press conference when he says, I delegate
enormous authority to my staff. You just have, you know, the voiceover
saying do you trust him to choose the next director of the IRS?

Eugene Robinson, what`s happened in New Jersey is the Tea Party`s worst
nightmare. Using the authority of government and the appointed directors
like say at the Port Authority, using those people in a vendetta. That is
exactly what they believe happened at the IRS.

And here`s Chris Christie doing that. And you can show him doing that in
effect to those people in a 30-second commercial really easily.

ROBINSON: Exactly. And so, this should not endear him to the Tea Party
people. Here`s another aspect of this, Lawrence -- let`s say Hillary
Clinton gets the Democratic nomination. So --

O`DONNELL: We`ve already said that on this program. It`s done. It`s
done.

ROBINSON: OK, so let`s say it again. And the risk of a Chris Christie
nomination is that he comes across as this sort of bully, as this sort of,
you know, bombastic boar and you imagine the first debate between Clinton
and Christie and him blowing up and just kind of, you know, ending the
campaign basically, which could happen.

This reinforces that notion that there could be a bully problem here. And
so, in that sense, it does really matter what happens with the
investigation. I think that image has been reinforced administrator.

O`DONNELL: Eugene Robinson, Ken Vogel, thank you both very much for
joining me tonight.

VOGEL: Thank you, Lawrence.

ROBINSON: Good to be here.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the most important thing that happened in Washington
today. Or at least that`s what I`m going to try to convince you it was.
It was the most important thing that happened in Washington. Maybe I can
get Joy Reid to agree with me. She`ll join me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Michelle Obama met an e4xtraordinary man yesterday, and appeared
with him today at a White House press event. When he was 14-years-old, he
didn`t know how to read. Now, he`s in college. He was with the first lady
at the president today at the most important thing that happened in
Washington today. And he will join me next along with Joy Reed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday, I met Troy. He
was nervous. I don`t really why you were nervous. You`re pretty awesome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Troy is going to join us in just a moment. But first, I want
you to know why the first lady thinks he`s pretty awesome. Troy Simon is a
sophomore in college at Bard in upstate New York, and he introduced the
first lady on that stage today in the executive office building next to the
White House after telling his amazing story about how he made it to
college.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TROY SIMON, COLLEGE STUDENT: But at 14, I saw my brothers and sisters
headed down the same path as me, so I knew that I had to make a better
example for them. I decided to change my life. I wrote to an academic
support program called the Urban League College Track, which helped me
academically and socially from that moment on.

College Track has helped me discover myself through writing. College Track
has gotten me to college. And College Track is still getting me to college
-- through college. I know that it took me to be committed to education,
but I also know that it took others to help me. I couldn`t do it alone.
No doubt.

Today`s event is not about me, but it`s about every kid in the United
States of America ensuring that they will succeed and get a chance to reach
the intellectual potential.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That is the most important thing that happened in Washington
today. This is about something more important than passing a budget. In
an economy where the single biggest advantage you can have is a college
education, we have got to find ways to help more kids make it to college
and through college, especially kids from families who have never gone to
college. Those of us who have gone to college are providing a tremendous
amount of help to our kids to make sure that they get to college and thrive
there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that when it comes to
college advising and preparing for tests like the A.C.T. and the S.A.T.,
low income kids are not on a level playing field. We call these
standardized tests. They`re not standardized. Malia and Sasha, by the
time they`re in seventh grade at Sidwell School here, are already getting
all kinds of advice and this and that and the other. The degree of
preparation that many of our kids here are getting in advance of actually
taking this test tilts the playing field. It`s not fair. And it`s gotten
worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Troy Simon, a sophomore at Bard College. Also
joining us for his second time on this program, Justin Porter, who is a
sophomore at Harvard and who discussed these issues in an essay he wrote
for "The New York Times" last summer. Also joining us, MSNBC`s Joy Reid.

Troy, tell us about how you turned your life around. You were 14-years-
old. You couldn`t read at that point. You had been through a lot of hard
times including a lot of problems after Hurricane Katrina with the way you
were able to live in New Orleans, but you decided you wanted to change.
How did you do it and how did you get the help?

SIMON: So I decided what I wanted to change when I was 14. You know, I can
still remember the day. It was a Thursday, and I believe that it was
somewhere around the new year in 2007, going into 2008. And I saw my
friends, you know, going down a self-destruct path and I realized that
that`s going to be me, too, if I keep it up. And I saw that most of my
friends were ending up in jail; they were either dying, not going to
school, you know? And even some older people that I hung around, you know,
who graduated, didn`t make it, or get a job after graduating high school.
I saw that they stopped and that they didn`t go to college.

You know, I said, wow what do I have to do to help my brothers and sisters
to make sure that they go to college? I said I don`t want to be like that,
I want to be better than that. I know I can do better. I talked to my
fifth grade teacher and like I said, I connected with her, Sarah Bliss
(ph), and I told her that I wanted help. But even before that, I talked to
my counselor, went to her, and discussed my problems you know, how I felt
bad about my literacy. And I said, you know, I`m just tired of living this
life. I believe there`s something better than this, you know?

O`DONNELL: Joy Reid, Troy`s story is about him making the most important
decision of his life and finding it within himself, the strength and the
determination to do this work, but he needed help and the conference at the
White House today was all about what kind of help can we give, can we help
deliver to high school kids who don`t have the family experience and the
family resources that are always very, very helpful when it comes to
applying to college, figuring out the S.A.T.s, all that sort of thing. And
this is something I think you`ve got some real experience with in terms of
kids like this trying ro find their way to college and stay in college.

JOY REID, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Lawrence, and I think what`s important when
you hear Troy`s story is him pointing out those adults that were able to
zero in on him and recognize his potential, because I think we can take for
granted just the importance of having an adult give you confidence and say
you can. I grew up with a single mom, but she always instills in us that
we could absolutely do anything we want to do. Going to college was a
given.

I`m curious for Troy, how important was it for you to have those adults,
whether it was in the College Track program or to have your teachers
actually give you just -- not even the academic preparation, but just the
spirit of saying to you, you can actually accomplish this. You can
actually go to college, that kind of spirit of I can. How important was
that for you?

SIMON: It was really important. It made me feel like I could do anything.
Hearing my fifth grade teacher, Sarah Bliss (ph), telling me that I could
make it through college and just have her right alongside me doing it with
me made me feel incredible and important.

I believe that`s what I always wanted. I always wanted someone to guide me
along the way and be patient with me. I believe that in my life, there
were some times people wouldn`t be patient with me and, you know, maybe
probably because I misbehaved or something. You know, and that would just
change our relationship. And this was, you know, with adults. But with my
teacher, my fifth grade teacher. She was always patient with me. That
made me open up and just made me want to keep on going. And --

O`DONNELL: Sorry, let`s listen to something that the first lady said today.
You heard her say it, Troy. But Justin, I want you to listen to this.
Because it`s similar -- it has certain things that you`ll -- that you`ll
recognize here. She talked about how she -- she -- as we all know, she
went to Princeton and it never occurred to me that that was necessarily a
big challenge for her to find her way to Princeton. But she said it never
would have crossed her mind to go to Princeton. She didn`t think about
schools like that and she was lucky to have the example of her brother.
That`s what led her to Princeton. Let`s listen to how she told that story
today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA: See, the truth is that if Princeton hadn`t found my brother as a
basketball recruit, and if I hadn`t seen that he could succeed on a campus
like that, it never would have occurred to me to apply to that school,
never. And I know that there are so many kids out there just like me, kids
who have a world of potential but maybe their parents never went to
college. Or maybe they`ve never been encouraged to believe that they could
succeed there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Justin, I know you were a very determined student in high
school, but you did need some help in widening your horizons about what
schools you might be able to apply to, didn`t you?

JUSTIN PORTER, HARVARD UNIV. SOPHOMORE: Definitely. I think there`s an old
statement that we`re the product of our environment. And I don`t
necessarily think it`s true. I think we`re a product of our expectations.
And many of my teachers in high school, my debate coach always told me that
there`s a huge, beautiful world out there and that it`s our responsibility
to explore it as much as humanly possible. And I think it`s incredibly
important that young students, especially in marginalized communities, are
exposed to these tremendous opportunities around them, through teachers
that are able to get them those resources and the information necessary.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what the first lady said today about when she
first arrived at school, and how disorienting that was for her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA: When I first arrived at school, as a first generation college
student, I didn`t know anyone on campus except my brother. I didn`t know
how to pick the right classes or find the right buildings. I didn`t even
bring the right size sheets for my dorm room bed. I didn`t realize those
beds were so long. So I was a little overwhelmed and a little isolated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joy Reid, does that sound familiar?

REID: It absolutely does. Especially the sheets thing. And it`s
interesting because when, you know, when I got to Harvard and I came from
an ordinary community, regular everyday place, majority African-American,
we`d only had two people from our town ever go to Harvard. But that was
really important. And I think you made that important with Justin, just
knowing that two people a little bit older than my sister had actually gone
to Harvard made it sound possible.

But you get to these schools and the other kids, most of them are
privileged. They` been to private school. They already know the system.
You know absolutely nothing. And we would even call ourselves public
school kids. Those of us who didn`t come from backgrounds that had any
experience with that sort of elite place. And I`m struck, Justin, whether
that was your experience. Whether that was his experience a little bit,
too. Because you do feel like a fish out of water, not even just on a
racial aspect, but even on a class aspect.

O`DONNELL: I want to get that answer, Joy, for you, but let`s just extend
this into the next segment. If you guys can all stay, Joy, Justin and
Troy. We`ll take a break here and be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA: And once school started, I discovered the campus cultural center,
the Third World Center where I found students and staff who came from
families and communities that were similar to my own, and they understood
what I was going through. They were there to listen when I was feeling
frustrated. They were there to answer the questions I was too embarrassed
to ask anyone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Troy Simon, when you were sitting there behind the first lady
today listening to her say that, did you identify with that idea of being
in college suddenly and having questions that you were too embarrassed to
ask?

SIMON: Yeah, they were times in class where I did feel too embarrassed to
ask a question. Maybe because, you know, I felt that I probably didn`t
know the right question to ask sometimes. Maybe I was a little bit too
shy. Everything was new to me. I was starting college, but as I - as my
days went on, I started asking questions in class and things got better.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to one more thing the first lady said today about
the help that she got when she was in college.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA: If it weren`t for those resource and the friends and the mentors,
I honestly don`t know how I would have made it through college, but instead
I graduated at the top of my class, I went to law school. And you know the
rest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Justin Porter, how`s that sound to you? The idea that when kids
are coming from -- she was the first in her family to go to college. She
couldn`t ask her parents how it works and, you know, what she should do
next. What does that say to you about the kind of help you think that kids
from her background, which is the same as your background, need or should
be able to get in terms of resources when they get to college?

PORTER: I think it`s tremendously important to find resonance in the
college experience, namely through mentors who have been through similar
experiences as your own. I know my college experience has been improved
dramatically through my involvement with the Black Men`s Forum. I`ve been
introduced to so many wonderful guys who have helped me through so many
difficult challenges that college has presented. And they taught me so
much about the cultural capital - the language of power, and so many of the
simplistic things that I didn`t even know that I needed to recognize to
operate well and functionally on Harvard`s campus.

So it truly is invaluable to have that resonance, the relationship between
guys who have been there before and who are genuinely invested in you doing
well. I can`t emphasize it enough.

O`DONNELL: Joy Reid, what the president was talking about today in his
comments at this event was that we need to be able to reach out and find
the Troy Simons and find the Justin Porters, and make sure we bring them
into these institutions. That we are missing a lot of potential talent who
can contribute to these colleges the way Troy and Justin are.

REID: Yeah, you know Lawrence, and the last time that Justin was on your
show, he said something that really affected me, this idea that we track,
right? That from a very young age in a lot of our communities,
neighborhoods growing up where there are, you know, predominantly minority
communities, we find that smart kid, or those group of smart kids and we
track them all the way through. And those kids actually get the message
even within the environment where the overall message isn`t there that they
can do it.

But we`re missing out on kids that are outside of that bubble. And there`s
a little bit of a guilt you feel if you`re one of those kids that are being
tracked along and your friends maybe aren`t, which can kind of hold you
back.

It`s not about single motherhood, it`s not about coming from a low income
community. It`s feeling confident that you will fit in in an environment
that is elite. And I think these guys were lucky enough to find adults
that could give them the right message. And I think what the president and
first lady were saying - and I`ve heard the first lady tell her story
before - is we have to figure out how do we get outside of the bubble of
the quote, unquote, smart kids, the kids who we know are going to track
through, and find the other kids, the diamonds in the rough, the Troys who
can also succeed. And finding those kids outside of the track I think is
the big challenge that we face going forward.

O`DONNELL: I just want to listen to one thing that the president said about
Troy before we go. Let`s listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. OBAMA: Let me begin by thanking Troy, and sharing his remarkable story.
I could not be more inspired by what he`s accomplished and can`t wait to
see what he`s going to accomplish in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Troy, I think he`s got some high expectations for you. You
better deliver for him. Troy Simon, Justin Porter, and Joy Reid, thank you
all very much for joining me tonight on this very important subject. Thank
you.

REID: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Wel`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We have this breaking news just in tonight, Oklahoma Republican
Senator Tom Coburn has announced that he will resign his seat in the Senate
at the end of this session, two years before his term is up. The 66-year-
old senator recently announced he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: I just want to take a minute to update you on what we achieved,
by which of course I mean what you achieved this holiday season for the
K.I.N.D. Fund -- Kids in Need of Desks. The program that I established
with Unicef to hire workers in Africa to build desks and deliver them to
schools that have never had desks, to children who have never seen desks.

When we last talked about this before the holiday break, we had raised an
additional $755,996 this season. Which brought our total then to
$6,531,912. It was thrilling to cross that $6 million mark by Christmas
eve, and I had no real expectation of getting us much higher than that.
But you kept giving. You went online to Lastworddesks.msnbc.com, and you
called 1-800-4-UNICEF and you kept giving. You just kept giving.

Most of you gave the desks as gifts to relatives and friends. And as you
now know, Unicef sent gift notices to the people in whose names you donated
the desks, or the people for whom you helped pay the tuition for girls in
Malawi to go to high school.

We had a surge in contributions for the girls tuition program in the
K.I.N.D. Fund this year, bringing our total for the girls tuition now to
$933,927. That is enough to allow 5,276 girls to continue their education
in high school in Malawi.

Since we last talked about this, the night before Christmas eve, you have
contributed another $881,830. Which miraculously pushed the K.I.N.D. Fund
across the $7 million mark, which means as of tonight you have contributed
a grand total of $7,388,341 to the K.I.N.D. Fund since we started it on
this program. I know that`s a very big number, but every little bit helps.

You know, when the hardworking staff of THE LAST WORD gave me the gift this
year of a contribution to the K.I.N.D. Fund, I got a bit choked up when I
tried to thank them, because every time I see a contribution to K.I.N.D.,
no matter how big or how small, I see those kids. I see the kids who are
going to be helped. I see the girls I know in high schools there who are
going to be able to continue their education dream, continue pursuing that
dream of becoming nurses and doctors. I see the kids sitting on dirty
floors who will suddenly find themselves sitting at desks, and I see, I see
how that makes them feel.

There`s a lot of emotion in the K.I.N.D. Fund here on the giving end and in
Malawi on the receiving end. And I always struggle to try to fully express
my gratitude for what you`ve done, and I always fail. And so I`m going to
leave the thank you tonight to the kids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHILDREN SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

END

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