Biden Didn't Know About Defense Chief's Ailment for 3 Days

Pentagon didn't immediately inform White House Lloyd Austin was in the hospital
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2024 6:00 AM CST
Defense Chief: I Blew It on Hospitalization Secrecy
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a Dec. 18 file photo from Israel.   (AP photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

The White House press corps and members of Congress are miffed they didn't know defense chief Lloyd Austin was in the hospital. But Politico reports a remarkable addendum to that: President Biden himself didn't know for three days that his secretary was out of action. The outlet says the Pentagon didn't inform top White House officials of Austin's Jan. 1 hospitalization until Jan. 4. On Saturday night, the 70-year-old Austin issued a statement—from the hospital—acknowledging the situation hasn't been handled well:

  • "I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed," he said, per the Wall Street Journal. "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." The statement didn't directly address any communication lapse with the White House.

The Pentagon says Austin resumed his full duties on Friday, though he remains in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. He was admitted Jan. 1 for what has been described only as complications from a previous outpatient procedure. Whatever was going on was was apparently, serious, however: NBC News reports Austin was in the ICU for four days this week. This, of course, comes amid a busy time at the Pentagon with the ongoing wars in Israel and Ukraine, and the Pentagon says deputy defense chief Kathleen Hicks filled in. However, NBC notes that Hicks did so from Puerto Rico, where she has been on a previously scheduled leave.

The Washington Post notes that a rare US airstrike on Baghdad took place on Thursday, while Austin was hospitalized. The Pentagon didn't inform the public and members of Congress about Austin until Friday afternoon, and GOP Sen. Tom Cotton is among those calling for an investigation. The Post speaks to a retired Marine Corps general, Arnold Punaro, who calls the handling of Austin's hospitalization a serious "blunder," adding that it will be important to learn whether top commanders in the military were aware of the situation. (More Lloyd Austin stories.)

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