The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker, slammed the Pentagon for its “shocking defiance of the law” after it failed to disclose Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization to the president, the National Security Council, and Congress for several days, and called for a briefing from the administration “immediately.”
“I am glad to hear Secretary Austin is in improved condition and I wish him a speedy recovery. However, the fact remains that the Department of Defense deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days. That is unacceptable. We are learning more every hour about the Department’s shocking defiance of the law,”Wicker said in a statement on Saturday.
“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,” he added. “Members must be briefed on a full accounting of the facts immediately.”
Austin was admitted to the hospital on January 1, following complications after an “elective medical procedure,” but reportedly did not tell National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan until Thursday, January 4. Sullivan then reportedly told President Joe Biden.
The Pentagon then released a statement to the press on Friday evening, January 5, disclosing that Austin was admitted to the hospital. The initial statement did not say what the elective procedure was, what the complications were, or acknowledge that Austin was still in the hospital as of that day.
File/United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Warsaw, Poland on 18 March 2022 (Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
While the statement also said that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks was ready to assume any of Austin’s duties, but did not disclose that she had assumed some of his duties already, and that she was on vacation in Puerto Rico during Austin’s hospitalization.
Wicker said the failure to disclose Austin’s hospitalization “further erodes trust” in the Biden administration, and noted that it also failed to inform the public in a “timely fashion” about the Chinese spy balloon and the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Worryingly, we now have more questions than answers,” Wicker said.
“Why was the notification process under 5 U.S.C. 3349 not followed and who made the determination not to follow it? What role did the Secretary of Defense’s staff play? When exactly was the President notified? What justification did the Department have for withholding information from the National Security Council? To what extent was the Secretary incapacitated by his surgery?” he asked.
“The very fact that we have none of this information is an indictment of an administration which consistently holds Congressional authority on national defense matters in contempt.”