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 January 8, 2024

Republicans respond to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin not disclosing his hospital stay

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, a Republican, stated that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin should provide an explanation as to why the White House and senior officials were not promptly informed of his hospitalization earlier this week until several days later.

This comes at a complicated time for the Biden administration, which is also dealing with a multitude of national security issues abroad, as Fox News reported.

Austin was admitted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday due to complications that arose after a recent elective medical procedure, according to a statement released to the press by Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder on Friday.

Ryder said that the hospitalization was kept from the media due to "medical and personal privacy issues."

Officials confirmed to Fox News that not only that, but neither the White House nor the National Security Council nor the Department of Defense nor their respective staffs were immediately notified.

"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," Cotton said in a statement released Saturday.

"If this report is true, there must be consequences for this shocking breakdown," he added.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was glad Austin was doing well, but called the Defense Department's secrecy a "shocking defiance of the law."

"When one of the country’s two National Command Authorities is unable to perform their duties, military families, Members of Congress, and the American public deserve to know the full extent of the circumstances," Wicker said in a statement.

"This episode further erodes trust in the Biden Administration, which has repeatedly failed to inform the public in a timely fashion about critical events such as the Chinese spy balloon and the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"Members must be briefed on a full accounting of the facts immediately."

An official told Fox News that from Monday through Friday, after Austin was admitted to the hospital, his deputy Kathleen Hicks, who was on a previously scheduled vacation and not physically present at the Pentagon, partially assumed some of his responsibilities.

Officials claim that the National Security Council and President Biden were not informed of Austin's hospitalization until Thursday, and that Congress was not briefed until Friday, mere minutes prior to the issuance of a press release. According to the official, not even senior Pentagon officials were informed.

Austin remained in intensive care following a non-public elective surgery. In contrast to the secrecy, Marine Corps Commandant Eric Smith died on October 29, 2023, of a myocardial infarction. A press release was issued within hours, accompanied by consistent updates.

Austin expressed gratitude to the medical staff at Walter Reed, colleagues, and acquaintances in a statement issued on Saturday, while also acknowledging concerns regarding transparency.

"I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon," he said.

"I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. 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."

Written By:
Charlotte Tyler

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