House Committee Questions Secretary Austin Over Concealed Hospital Stay

( – The House Armed Services Committee questioned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday, February 29th over his failure to inform the President or his team of his January hospitalization until several days into his stay at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Austin was taken by ambulance to the hospital late on January 1st after suffering severe pain from an infection resulting from surgery on December 22nd to treat his prostate cancer. While in the hospital on January 2nd, he officially transferred his duties as Defense Secretary to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, although he did not inform her or the White House of the situation until January 4th. By January 5th, Congress and the public at large had been made aware that he had been hospitalized.

Austin, who had not informed his staff or the White House of his December surgery or the cancer diagnosis that precipitated it, agreed that he did not manage the situation correctly, although he maintained that either he or his deputy had been in a position to carry out the duties of his role at all times. He faced harsh criticism from House Republicans throughout the committee hearing, with Rep. Jim Banks (R- IN) demanding to know who would be held accountable for the lack of timely communication and expressing his surprise that Pres. Biden had not requested Secretary Austin’s resignation.

Austin did not explicitly blame anybody apart from himself, although he did state that as the patient, he had expected “the organization [to inform] the right agencies”, and that he did not ask his staff to keep his hospital stay a secret. When questioned on his staff’s awareness by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), he could not confirm when he told them that he was in hospital.

Before the hearing, the Pentagon had released an unclassified report into the incident which found that no individual staff member was at fault. It also found that neither Austin nor any employee had deliberately withheld important information, but that improvements needed to be made to the relevant processes in the future. Austin’s answers to the committee appeared to be in line with these findings, and he promised that he would take responsibility for “some institutional changes” to avoid future errors.

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