News surfaced on Friday that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been hospitalized since Jan. 1. While the press was kept in the dark that Austin had been hospitalized, it is now reported that President Joe Biden was also unaware of the concerning medical situation. A noteworthy Republican has described the incident as a “shocking breakdown.”
Alarming new details emerged on Saturday regarding Austin’s sudden hospitalization.
The Pentagon did not inform President Biden and other top officials in his administration – including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan – about Austin’s hospitalization for three days, three U.S. officials reportedly told Politico.
Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday evening after “complications following a recent elective medical procedure.” Pentagon officials did not reveal what procedure Austin had, what the complications were, or how serious the medical situation was.
Sullivan allegedly told Biden about Austin’s situation shortly after the Department of Defense made the announcement on Thursday.
A White House official told USA Today that Biden and Austin spoke on Saturday evening.
“It was a warm conversation,” the official stated. “The president has complete confidence in Secretary Austin and is looking forward to him being back in the Pentagon.”
Austin spent four days in the intensive care unit, two senior administration officials told NBC News.
While he was in the hospital, Austin’s duties were partially assumed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.
However, Hicks was on pre-scheduled vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, according to a defense official.
The official said that Hicks “has maintained full communication with the DOD staff throughout,” and added, “She has monitored DOD’s day-to-day operations and conducted some routine business.”
The stunning lack of communication has been slammed by the press and government officials.
The Pentagon Press Association called the lack of transparency an “outrage.”
“The fact that he has been at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four days and the Pentagon is only now alerting the public late on a Friday evening is an outrage,” the Pentagon Press Association said on Friday. “The public has a right to know when U.S. Cabinet members are hospitalized, under anesthesia or when duties are delegated as the result of any medical procedure.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) – a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – released a statement on Saturday declaring the situation a “shocking breakdown.”
“Secretary Austin must address promptly the troubling report that the Department of Defense didn’t immediately notify President Biden or the National Security Council that he was hospitalized and unable to perform his duties,” Cotton declared. “The Secretary of Defense is the key link in the chain of command between the president and the uniformed military, including the nuclear chain of command, when the weightiest of decisions must be made in minutes.”
“If this report is true, there must be consequences for this shocking breakdown,” Cotton concluded.
Chuck Hagel – a former senator who served as defense secretary during the Obama administration – chimed in by saying, “The NSC is part of your team, it’s part of the family. The president has to know where his Cabinet members are at all times.”
An anonymous U.S. official told Politico, “This should not have happened this way.”
Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said that the hospitalization was kept from the media due to “medical and personal privacy issues.”
On Saturday, Austin addressed the backlash of keeping his hospitalization a secret.
“I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon,” Austin began.
“I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed,” he continued. “I commit to doing better. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”
The NSC and Pentagon declined to comment on the situation.
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