Editor's note: This story was originally published at 8:31 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016.
Reeling from days of controversy, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump met Wednesday with the families y members of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan before a rally in Florida Wednesday to hear their concerns about the campaign and broader national security issues.
The private conference, which attendees said lasted about 30 minutes before a rally in Florida, included top Trump defense advisoer retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and was organized by Karen Vaughn, the mother of a fallen Navy SEAL and a featured speaker at last month’s Republican convention. Ten parents, siblings and spouses of fallen service members were included.
"It was really a chance to tell our stories, but also talk about problems with the rules of engagement [for troops in war zones] and the failed policies of the current administration," Vaughn said. "I walked out feeling like I understood where his heart is, regardless of the comments that he made that may seem insensitive to some."
Trump has received significant criticism in recent days from political opponents, veterans groups and even fellow Republicans for his remarks in response to a Democratic convention speech delivered by Khizr Khan, the Muslim father of a soldier killed in Iraq in 2004.
In the speech, Khan charged that Trump has promoted anti-Muslim policies and has sacrificed "nothing and no one" for America. Trump has attacked Khan in the media since then, suggesting he is being used as a political pawn doesn’t understand the real issues at hand.
Vaughn said she and other families in the Florida meeting sympathize with Khan, but also feel the ensuing media coverage has overshadowed more important issues for their community.
She accused those
supporting Trump's rival, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, of exaggerating those comments in an effort to cover her own national security shortfalls. Vaughn also lamented
what she see as insensitivity toward
an insensitive reaction to
the families of several Americans killed in the 2012 terrorist attack on U.S. diplomatic
facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton was secretary of State at that time, and she has come under intense scrutiny for what her critics say was gross miscalculation and inaction as the attack occurred.
"This is a media issue that has been blown out of proportion," she said. "We want to talk about the things our husbands, fathers and sons died for.
"So we had a substantive conversation, and I feel like he understands if he becomes commander in chief, these are the kinds of decisions and results he’ll have to deal with."
said several family members in the event were connected to Operation 300, a charity that she
helped found in 2012 to benefit the children of fallen troops. While thanking the attendees for the meeting, Trump agreed to make a donation to that group.
Veterans groups and several prominent Republican leaders have pushed Trump to apologize for the public fight with Khan, but Vaughn said she did not think any such move is needed.
"As a Gold Star mother, I don’t expect anything," she said. "My son is the one who gave his life, not me."
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at