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Alexander Vindman felt a shiver of recognition when he watched four police officers testify last week before the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
For one thing, he saw a straight line between the impeachment trial at which he had been a witness against President Donald Trump and the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters 11 months later. In his view, Trump's acquittal by the Senate helped embolden the president to try to overturn the results of a legitimate election he lost.
For another, Vindman, a former National Security Council aide, knew a firestorm was about to engulf those witnesses on social media and elsewhere driven by Trump's most fervent backers. He said an ad hoc network has emerged among those who found themselves in the crosshairs of Trump and his legions.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with USA TODAY Thursday at his home in suburban Washington, Vindman discussed:
How his father, then a solid Trump supporter, urged him not to testify against the president.
How even after congressional investigations, the transcript released of Trump's controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy doesn't include two important comments that are in Vindman's handwritten notes.
How he struggled after being fired from the National Security Council by the Trump White House and, in his view, was largely abandoned by the military in which he had served for two decades.
Defying Trump in public, as he did, can bring a torrent of abuse.
"There's an informal kind of network of folks that look for opportunities to support each other," he said, an idea conspiracy theorists and some conservative talk-show hosts might find alarming. "I imagine that the Tucker Carlsons and the Laura Ingrahams would call this the Deep State Club or something like that, but I've made it a point to reach out to folks that are attacked like this."
Vindman has counseled a Navy SEAL who has been under fire since testifying against disgraced former SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Trump twice intervened to help Gallagher, who posted the names and photos of his accusers, calling them "cowards."
Vindman and Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn have had several exchanges since Dunn testified about the racial slurs hurled at him by the Jan. 6 mob. On Fox afterward, Tucker Carlson denounced Dunn as "an angry, left-wing political activist."
Vindman gave Dunn the same advice he has tried to follow himself.
"These are not people in your circle," Vindman said. "Really, you should only be concerned with people that you respect and admire. All of this other stuff is just background noise that has no effect on you. You will have supporters; you'll have detractors.
"Focus on the good; don't let the bad get you down, and you'll be fine."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Vindman has advice for Harry Dunn, others caught in a firestorm