Deputy defense secretary says he wasn't told about Austin's hospitalization

 January 12, 2024

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was not informed about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's hospitalization when she assumed some of his duties on Tuesday, according to two defense officials.

Hicks learned about Austin's hospitalization on Thursday, while she was in Puerto Rico, and returned on Saturday.

The controversy

Austin has been hospitalized since January 1 due to complications following a minor elective medical procedure, as acknowledged by the Pentagon on Friday.

The White House also became aware of Austin's status days after his admission to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to a Biden administration official.

Gen. C. Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was informed of Austin's hospitalization on January 2 but did not inform the White House.

The lack of transparency

The revelation that even the Pentagon's second in command was unaware of Austin's condition raises questions about the secrecy surrounding his health. The news adds to the growing concerns about the lack of transparency.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder stated that on January 2, the Secretary of Defense transferred certain operational responsibilities to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, a routine occurrence not solely tied to health-related matters.

Hicks, upon learning of the hospitalization, engaged staff in drafting a public statement and congressional outreach, making contingency plans to return to Washington.

Investigation happening

She was later informed that Austin was preparing to resume full communications capability and operational responsibilities on Friday.

The White House was informed of Austin's status on Thursday morning, a Senate aide said the Senate Armed Services Committee was notified Friday evening, and a senior House Armed Services Committee aide mentioned that the committee was informed before the public announcement on Friday.

Ryder explained that due to illness, the Secretary's Chief of Staff was unable to make notifications earlier.

While responsible for some of Austin's duties, Hicks made routine operational and management decisions for the Pentagon. Ryder mentioned that Austin is "recovering well" and resumed full duties on Friday evening.

Details about Austin's discharge were not provided, but Ryder stated that he received his normal Saturday drop, including the president's daily brief. Austin acknowledged in a statement on Saturday that he could have done a better job ensuring the public was informed but took full responsibility for decisions about disclosure.

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