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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called to testify over health secrecy

A House committee summoned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to testify on unanswered questions and secrecy surrounding his recent hospitalization.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called to testify over health secrecy
Posted at 4:20 PM, Jan 19, 2024

A House committee has called Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to testify before Congress next month in regards to his recent hospitalization, which he didn't immediately disclose to the White House.

Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Committee on Armed Services, said in a letter to Austin Thursday that the secretary's "unwillingness to provide candid and complete answers" about the "secrecy" surrounding his health necessitated his testimony at a full committee hearing Feb. 14.

Despite the Pentagon chief apparently promising "full transparency," Rogers indicated Austin hadn't addressed a "concerning" number of questions regarding his hospitalization — specifically the question of whether the secretary had told his staff not to tell the president or others of it.

"Unfortunately this leads me to believe that information is being withheld from Congress," Rogers wrote in the four-page letter. "Congress must understand what happened and who made decisions to prevent the disclosure of the whereabouts of a cabinet secretary."

Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Monday after a two-week stay. 

He had initially been admitted to the hospital on Dec. 22 to undergo a minimally invasive surgery to treat his prostate cancer, which had been detected earlier that month.

SEE MORE: Lloyd Austin requested a discreet ambulance pickup, 911 call reveals

Though his doctors said he had returned home the morning after the surgery, Austin was readmitted on Jan. 1 due to complications from the procedure, reportedly from an infection, which manifested in the form of abdomen, leg and hip pain and nausea.

Pentagon officials didn't notify the president, Congress or the public about Austin's hospitalization or illness for days, drawing questions and scrutiny over the lack of transparency — namely that Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks assumed Austin's responsibilities without knowledge of the hospitalization.

Austin said in a statement that he recognized he 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."

President Biden criticized his secretary's secrecy but expressed appreciation for Austin recognizing the lapse in judgment. But others are digging deeper, with the Defense Department ordering a review on notification procedures for events like this and its inspector general launching an investigation into the "roles, processes and actions" surrounding Austin's hospitalization. 

In his letter Thursday, Rogers said he expects Austin to offer "full honesty and cooperation" in the matter moving forward, and listed some questions that he will request to be answered at the hearing next month, including the transferring of duties to Hicks, all written communications regarding his health between Pentagon staff and a list of military operations carried out while he wasn't acting in his role as secretary of defense.

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