Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has confirmed he will testify to the House Armed Services Committee about keeping his hospitalization a secret from President Joe Biden for almost a week in early January, at a time when U.S. military forces are engaged in conflict in the Middle East.
“The Department of Defense has confirmed to the House Armed Services Committee that Secretary Austin will testify before the Committee on February 29 on his failure to disclose his hospitalization,” House Armed Services Committee spokesperson Justine Tripathi said in a statement on Wednesday.
At a rare press conference on Thursday, Austin — who calls himself a “private person” — was asked if he would attend the hearing requested by Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) but did not give a yes or no answer. He only said he would “stay in touch with Chairman Rogers’ office…as things play out.”
Both Republicans and Democrats were furious that Austin was hospitalized in an intensive care unit for four days before telling Biden, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. It was not until the fifth day that Austin told members of Congress and the American public.
The Pentagon later admitted that Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December and then underwent surgery to treat that cancer on December 22, which entailed general anesthesia and an overnight hospitalization, but Austin did not inform the president about that, either.
Although he went home after treatment, he faced complications from the surgery, and on January 1, he took an ambulance to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with abdominal and leg pain. He remained there until late January.
The Pentagon has claimed that at no time was the military or the nation put at risk by Austin’s hospitalization and that Austin had transferred some authorities to Hicks — who was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time.
The Pentagon has also admitted that Austin told Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown about his hospitalization on January 2, as well as Chief of Staff Kelly Magsamen and Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder. An unidentified aide to Austin who called the ambulance also knew of the hospitalization. The Pentagon said Magsamen was sick with the flu and implied it was why there was a delay in notification to the White House.
Austin claimed he never ordered his staff not to tell anyone, and he is unsure why no one informed the White House. He has personally apologized to Biden for not telling him directly and said Biden has responded with “grace and a warm heart” and has “full confidence in him.”
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US Department of Defense via Storyful
The Pentagon began a 30-day review on January 8, which Austin implied would answer questions about why Magsamen or others did not inform the White House of his hospitalization.
The White House has also said it is conducting a review, and the Pentagon inspector general has launched an investigation. Rogers and lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee have also begun an investigation into the matter.
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