OAN’s Abril Elfi
3:00 PM – Sunday, January 7, 2024
Congress members and Pentagon officials had been unaware for days about the hospitalization of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, even the deputy that took over some of his responsibilities.
United States officials said on Saturday that as concerns arose regarding Austin’s health and the secrecy surrounding it, senior Biden administration officials, top Pentagon officials, and members of Congress were unaware for days that Austin had been hospitalized since Monday.
According to two administration officials, the Pentagon did not notify top adviser Jake Sullivan or the White House National Security Council about Austin’s hospitalization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, until Thursday.
In a statement issued Saturday evening, Austin took responsibility for the delay in communication.
“I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” said Austin, acknowledging the concerns about transparency. “But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”
According to his press secretary, the 70-year-old remained hospitalized due to complications following a minor elective medical procedure.
Austin gave no additional information about his illness in his statement, other than to say that he is feeling better and hopes to return to the Pentagon soon.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said congressmen were notified late on Friday afternoon and other officials stated that information reached them after 5 p.m.
Although it was unclear when Austin’s senior leadership team members were informed, word of Austin’s hospitalization spread throughout the Pentagon when the department issued a statement shortly after 5 p.m. and before that many thought Austin was away for a week vacation.
According to Ryder, on Saturday, Austin was making a good recovery and returned to his full duties from his hospital bed on Friday night.
When questioned about the length of time the hospital stay was kept under wraps, Ryder said that it was an “evolving situation” and that the Pentagon had chosen not to disclose Austin’s absence because of privacy and medical concerns.
Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee criticized the delayed notice.
“The Department of Defense deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days. That is unacceptable,” said Wicker. “We are learning more every hour about the Department’s shocking defiance of the law.”
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