U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized Monday, and the Biden Administration kept the matter under wraps all week, until Friday. The reason for the hospitalization was described as complications arising from an unspecified surgery.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said Friday that it was not clear when Austin would be released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but that he had resumed his duties as of Friday and is “recovering well.”
Austin, 70, is right below President Joe Biden, 81, in terms of military command structure. He is considered to be on duty 24-7, to respond to any national security situation.
His hospitalization came during a time when Biden was vacationing in the Bahamas. Joe and Jill Biden returned to the states on Tuesday, however.
According to Politico, the Pentagon did not tell President Biden or other top officials about Austin’s hospitalization for three days.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior White House aides didn’t know of Austin’s Jan. 1 hospitalization until the Defense Department sent over word Jan. 4, two U.S. officials told the publication. Sullivan informed Biden shortly after DOD’s Thursday notification.
The public was still in the dark about Austin when, on Thursday, a U.S. airstrike was conducted on the headquarters of an Iran-backed militia group in central Baghdad, killing a high-ranking militia member. The Thursday air strike fuels concerns that the Israel-Hamas war could spread to surrounding countries.
Update: Sec. Austin was in the intensive care unit while hospitalized, for an unknown amount of time and is still in the hospital on Saturday. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks has assumed his duties; however, she was on vacation in Puerto Rico when Austin was admitted to Walter Reed.
Politico reported on Saturday that the news of Austin’s situation came as a shock to all White House staff, “as they were unaware the Pentagon boss was dealing with complications following an elective medical procedure.”
National Security Council staffers were surprised it took the Pentagon so long to let them know of Austin’s status. The Pentagon didn’t make the information public until Friday evening, notifying Congress about 15 minutes before releasing a public statement, Politico wrote.
“This should not have happened this way,” said one of the U.S. officials.
“In a Saturday statement after an earlier version of this story published, Austin said, ‘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,'” Politico reported.