Didn’t Inform Biden Over Austin’s Hospitalization

President Joe Biden was not made aware of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization until three days after it occurred, according to three U.S. officials.

The hospitalization, which occurred on January 1, was not disclosed to the public until the Pentagon released a statement on January 4. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other top White House aides were also not informed until January 4, when they were notified by the Defense Department. According to two other U.S. officials, it is highly unlikely that Austin privately notified Biden before Sullivan’s briefing on January 4.

According to the U.S. officials, all of whom spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity of the subject, it was a shock to White House staff when they learned of Austin’s hospitalization. National Security Council staffers were surprised that it took the Pentagon three days to inform them of Austin’s health status. The NSC and Pentagon both declined to comment on the matter.

Defense Secretary Austin was hospitalized on January 1 and remained in the hospital for four days before being released on January 5. According to a senior DOD official, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks partially assumed some of Austin’s duties from January 1 to January 5. Austin resumed his full duties on January 5 when he was released from the hospital.

President Biden and Defense Secretary Austin had not discussed the latter’s hospitalization until January 9 when they had a “cordial conversation” according to one of the U.S. officials. The official added that the President has “complete trust and confidence” in Austin and is looking forward to him resuming his duties as soon as he is cleared by his doctors.

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who served under President Barack Obama, said that the Pentagon must inform the National Security Council of the whereabouts and conditions of its members at all times. Hagel also stated that he is “surprised” that the White House was not informed of Secretary Austin’s hospitalization until January 4. According to Hagel, if the President had been made aware of Austin’s situation, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan would have been his first call.

On January 4, after the news of Austin’s situation broke, several members of Congress expressed outrage. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, stated that he wished Secretary Austin “a speedy recovery”. Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut also wished the Defense Secretary well, but added that “such critical information” should not be withheld from the SASC. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and a member of the SASC, stated that it is “unacceptable” for Austin not to disclose his hospitalization sooner. Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, the ranking member of the SASC, stated he expected “a prompt briefing” on the matter.

Pentagon Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder announced that Austin had been hospitalized since January 1, but his statement came very late in the evening when most people were focused on their weekends. According to nine DOD officials and two congressional aides, several Pentagon officials as well as congressional leaders were not aware of Austin’s situation until late Friday afternoon when Ryder’s statement was published.

Austin’s hospitalization comes in the midst of rising tensions between the United States and Iran-backed proxies in the Middle East. Secretary Austin approved a military strike against the leader of a terrorist group in Iraq on January 7, with President Biden’s approval. According to one senior DOD official, this strike took place while Austin was in the hospital.

According to information shared with POLITICO, the U.S. is currently weighing options to respond to attacks by Iranian-backed militias across the Middle East. The U.S. has repelled over 120 missile and rocket attacks in Iraq and Syria alone, and several American destroyers are positioned in the Red Sea with the intent to shoot down assault drones and ballistic missiles aimed at Saudi Arabia.

Previous Biden Receives Letter
Next High Ranking TSA Official Arrested In Atlanta