Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called on the Pentagon to provide transparency surrounding Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s “secret” hospitalization.
“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 wrote in a statement.
“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 said.
Wicker added that “Members must be briefed on a full accounting of the facts immediately.”
“I am concerned about his health and shocked that the Pentagon and White House have not been more forthcoming about his condition or why he remains hospitalized. It appears that even the President, his national security advisor, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense were unaware of Secretary Austin’s hospitalization for at least three days,” Collins said in a statement Monday. “Given the extremely serious military decisions that the United States is dealing with, including attacks on our troops by Iranian-backed proxies, the war in the Middle East, and the ongoing aggression by Russia in Ukraine, it is inexplicable that the Secretary’s condition remains shrouded in secrecy.”
She added, “I wish him a speedy recovery, but also believe that he must be forthcoming about the nature of his illness and his ability to do his job.”
Austin was hospitalized last Monday following complications from surgery, the Pentagon said.
“On the evening of January 1, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
The news about Austin was shared with the media on Friday.
“Worryingly, we now have more questions than answers,” Wicker said.
Wicker inquired about the involvement of the Secretary of Defense’s staff, the timing of the President’s notification, and the reasons behind withholding information from the National Security Council. Wicker also asked the Pentagon about the extent of the Secretary’s incapacitation due to surgery.
“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,” he said.
Ryder said that the hospitalization was kept from the press due to “medical and personal privacy issues.”
Other congressional Republicans also requested additional information about Austin’s hospitalization.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement Saturday that Austin “must address promptly the troubling report that the Department of Defense didn’t immediately notify President Biden or the National Security Council that he was hospitalized and unable to perform his duties.”
“The Secretary of Defense is the key link in the chain of command between the president and the uniformed military, including the nuclear chain of command, when the weightiest of decisions must be made in minutes,” he said.
The top lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee released a statement on Sunday evening calling for “additional details” on Austin’s condition and why notification was delayed.
“While we wish Sec. Austin a speedy recovery, we are concerned with how the disclosure of the Secretary’s condition was handled,” Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said.
Other reports indicate top White House and Pentagon officials were also unaware of Austin’s hospitalization.
Fox News’ Liz Elkind contributed to this report.
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