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Why Pittsburgh is mentioned in the Mueller report

Natasha Lindstrom
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Eric Thayer | Bloomberg
Special Counsel Robert Mueller leaves a meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington on June 21, 2017.
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Department of Justice
An online poster advertising purported pro-Trump rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia promoted by Russian propagandists is included in special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on President Trump and Russia released on Thursday, April 18, 2019. It’s unclear if either rally ever happened.

Embedded within the Mueller report is an image of an online poster advertising a “Miners for Trump” rally at the Steel Plaza in Pittsburgh.

Whether the Russian-promoted event actually happened remains unclear.

In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton rallies publicized by Russian propagandists on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms targeted several U.S. cities, including in Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page redacted report released Thursday.

The rallies were among a spate of political demonstrations advertised via social media by the Russian-run Internet Research Agency, the so-called “troll and bot farm” accused of attempting to interfere in U.S. politics and influence the American public through misinformation.

“From June 2016 until the end of the presidential campaign, almost all of the U.S. rallies organized by the IRA focused on the U.S. election, often promoting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign,” the report said.

Some of the rallies, including ones billed as “Florida Goes Trump!” flash mobs, drew as few as a handful of people, despite hundreds of Facebook accounts pledging to attend, social media archives and news reports show. One in Scranton drew a small crowd, but one of its organizers later told the Times-Tribune he couldn’t remember exactly how the event came about.

There is no evidence that some of the purported rallies drew any participants — including one advertised at Marconi (sic) Plaza in Philadelphia and outside the U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh, both scheduled to take place Oct. 2, 2016.

Tim McNulty, spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, said the city has no records of a request for a permit or notification about such an event held that day.

President Trump’s campaign as well as his sons shared IRA-linked content and events on Twitter, Mueller found.

“The Florida rallies drew the attention of the Trump Campaign, which posted about the Miami rally on candidate Trump’s Facebook account,” Mueller’s report said.

The Pennsylvania rallies were referenced in last year’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of trying to interfere in the U.S. political system. The February 2018 indictment said that “on or about September 22, 2016, defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for a series of rallies they organized in Pennsylvania called ‘Miners for Trump.’”

An Evensi post shows that the Oct. 2 Pennsylvania rallies were purported to happen in Philadelphia, Erie, Scranton, Harrisburg, Allentown and “Pittsburg” — misspelled with no “h.” The event listing cites Twitter account @March_for_Trump and a Facebook event page, both of which now are unavailable.

Many accounts linked to the IRA, including the group, “Being Patriotic,” have been suspended and removed from social media sites. Being Patriotic’s Facebook page had about 200,000 followers before it was taken down in 2017, The Daily Beast reports.

The IRA not only operated out of Russia but “many of the same IRA employees who oversaw the IRA’s social media accounts also conducted the day-to-day recruiting for political rallies inside the United States,” the report said.

Pennsylvania also was mentioned in Mueller’s report in reference to a meeting between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a Russian national.

During the meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort employee with close ties to powerful Russians, Manafort identified Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as battleground states. Manafort also helped to share internal polling data with Kilimnik and discussed plans to use the Special Counsel’s Office as ‘a ‘backdoor’ way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine,” the report said.

Manafort, also accused of lying to investigators, is serving a 7.5-year prison sentence on unrelated fraud and conspiracy charges.

Mueller found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russia government to interfere in the 2016 election. He did not exonerate Trump on the question of whether he committed obstruction of justice.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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