New undercover video released by the conservative journalism group Project Veritas shows a high-ranking Democratic official with the Maryland attorney general’s office speaking candidly about his strong opposition to gun rights and spilling official secrets during bar and hotel-room meetings with a 21-year-old undercover female reporter.
The sting, video of which was shared exclusively with The Daily Caller, centers on deputy attorney general Thiruvendran “Thiru” Vignarajah. The 38-year-old former Harvard Law Review president has already made a name for himself at the AG’s office, having worked recently to shoot down an appeal filed by Adnan Syed, whose 2000 murder conviction was the subject of the popular NPR show “Serial.”
In the video, Vignarajah expresses strong anti-gun views, telling the undercover reporter, who was posing as a law school applicant, that “we should ban guns altogether, period.”
Vignarajah also spilled the beans on a secret plan that was brewing inside the attorney general’s office to side against his state’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, by backing President Obama in supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
The video, which was recorded during conversations that took place at a bar and in two hotel rooms in late October and early November, also shows Vignarajah confiding in the reporter that he often feels anxious because he knows little about certain parts of his job, which he took earlier this year after Democratic attorney general Brian Frosh was elected.
Vignarajah, who served two years as an assistant U.S. attorney, revealed other work secrets in one hotel room conversation with the reporter, including that Frosh does not want to run for the state’s governor, despite enormous pressure from his party to do so.
The Daily Caller reached out to Vignarajah through email. He forwarded questions to a spokesman with the attorney general’s office.
“In general, Mr. Frosh is not concerned about private views shared by employees in private conversations,” Frosh’s communications director, David Nitkin, told TheDC.
Project Veritas’ edited 11-minute video begins with Vignarajah and the reporter drinking at a New York City bar during a regional meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General at New York University’s law school held on Oct. 29.
Vignarajah asks the undercover reporter for her phone number so that he can send her a link to an article. The reporter said that Vignarajah continued texting her throughout the law conference and that the two ended up making plans for later that night.
Over drinks, the Project Veritas reporter asked Vignarajah what gun laws he would implement if he had unilateral power.
“My complete answer, off the record, is we should ban guns altogether, period,” Vignarajah says.
He continued, offering support for gun policies that are even far to the left of Maryland’s gun laws, which are among the toughest in the U.S.:
If you want to go hunt with a gun, you can go to the gun range, you can pick up your gun at the gun range, fire it there, and then you leave it there and you go home. And, if you want a gun at home, you ought to either be a law enforcement officer, or you ought to go through an extensive licensing scheme, like you have to pass like a driver’s license, you have to pay a tax, you have to have insurance.
Vignarajah, who has also worked as a division chief of the major investigations unit with the Baltimore City state’s attorney’s office, said that he supports “fingerprint trigger locks” on guns, “so the only person who can fire your gun is you.”
Later at the bar, Vignarajah commented to the reporter that she barely touched her cocktail.
“I can’t help it that you’re so interesting,” the reporter says.
“I’d be more interesting if you were tipsy,” Vignarajah responded.
From there, the pair went to Vignarajah’s hotel room where the state employee changed into more comfortable clothes. But the undercover reporter made up an excuse to leave, saying in a post-sting interview that she began to feel uncomfortable.
“I’m bummed that you’re not staying, but I understand,” Vignarajah says in the video, hugging the reporter.
But the reporter stayed in contact with Vignarajah over the next few days and the two made plans to meet up in Washington, D.C. She claimed that Vignarajah “thought we were going to sleep together,” but she said they merely talked for an hour in his hotel room.
There, the reporter coaxed more information out of Vignarajah, this time about the inner workings of the Maryland attorney general’s office.
“This EPA Thing”
When Vignarajah and the undercover reporter met in his Washington, D.C. hotel room on Nov. 1, his office was poised to join with 16 other states to support Obama’s Clean Power Plan climate change initiative, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plans by 32 percent by 2030. But nobody outside of Vignarajah’s office knew for certain that the attorney general would be siding with Obama against the wishes of Gov. Hogan.
“It’s great,” Vignarajah said of the undercover plan.
“[Big businesses] are going to say that the EPA has exceeded its authority — that Barack Obama is exceeding his authority — but there is very, very little argument that the EPA is not only entitled to do this but is required to do this kind of stuff,” said Vignarajah, whose sister works in the Obama White House and served in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.
According to Project Veritas president James O’Keefe, Vignarajah may have violated Maryland’s rules of professional conduct by leaking the story about the lawsuit to the undercover reporter.
O’Keefe pointed to Rule 1.6(a) which states that “a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation.”
Vignarajah did hint at legality issues when discussing the Clean Power Plan with the reporter, though he insisted to her that “it’s not breaking any rules or laws to tell you.”
“But it would be really bad if somebody found out before the middle of the week,” he cautioned, while adding with an air of intrigue: “there are some people who know, but that’s not public. See, that’s kind of cool.”
“I can’t do my job”
While Vignarajah has been in his position for less than a year, he has already become a player in one of Maryland’s most high-profile cases.
In September, Vignarajah filed a 34-page motion arguing that 35-year-old Adnan Syed should not be allowed to introduce an alibi witness he claimed was dissuaded from testifying at his 2000 trial for murdering his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, the year before.
Syed’s case became the subject of international intrigue when it was featured on the maiden season of NPR’s “Serial.”
The popularity of the series and the questions it raised prompted the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to grant Syed a special hearing. But in his motion, Vignarajah said that Syed’s claim that the alibi witness was prevented from testifying was “meritless.”
Nevertheless, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge granted Syed’s special hearing.
Despite his premier position at the Maryland attorney general’s office, Vignarajah expressed self-doubt to the Project Veritas reporter about his ability to do his job.
“I am terrified about people figuring out that I don’t know about a lot of variables. I have to like put on an act that I know,” he confided.
He cited anti-trust cases as an example of a legal area in which he has little experience.
“I can’t do my job. … I don’t ever lie, but I have to nod and report that I understand what’s going on,” he said, adding that “it worries me a little bit” and “it’s very nerve-wracking.”
Asked why it’s such a big deal that he doesn’t know all facets of his job, Vignarajah replied, “because, it’s my job to oversee these divisions that I don’t know much about.”
Vignarajah also revealed closely-held information that could come in handy for Maryland Republicans.
Asked what is the most interesting thing about his boss, Brian Frosh, Vignarajah teased: “I’ll tell you something contrary to what people know: he does not want to run for governor.”
“He’s a leader of the Democratic Party in Maryland, so lots of people are vying for him to and hoping that he will and encouraging him to,” he explained.
Perhaps finally sensing that he’d gone too far, Vignarajah steered away from the topic.
“Fine, now I have officially told you enough,” he said.