‘Must Never Happen Again’: Top Dem Senator Breaks Silence On Lloyd Austin’s Unknown Hospitalization

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III conducts a joint press conference with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, Israel, to discuss regional security, opportunities to expand military cooperation, and escalating violence in the West Bank, March 9, 2023. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza)

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee raised concerns over the defense secretary’s unexplained absence in a statement Monday, breaking the senator’s three-day silence as calls for accountability mounted elsewhere.

Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization, kept hidden for days from his deputy and top White House officials, expressed serious concerns about the Department of Defense’s (DOD) leadership during the period of Austin’s absence in the statement. Reed did not speak publicly about the incident until Monday afternoon, although the Pentagon notified Congress about Austin’s status on Friday. “This lack of disclosure must never happen again,” Reed said in the statement.

“I remain concerned that vital chain of command and notification procedures were not followed while the secretary was under medical care. He is taking responsibility for the situation, but this was a serious incident and there needs to be transparency and accountability from the Department,” he added.

Top Democrats, Reed included, had initially declined to comment, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. Reed said he was tracking the situation and made clear to the Pentagon he desired to hear any and all relevant details about the incident.

Democrats have broken with some Republicans over calls for terminations over the secrecy. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks performed some duties of the secretary while on vacation without knowing Austin was in the hospital. Neither she nor top White House officials, including President Joe Biden, knew until three days after Austin was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Austin should not resign, Reed told a local CBS affiliate in his home state.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Democratic Sen. Angus King of Maine said the senator was traveling over the weekend. Most of the remaining committee Democrats did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a joint statement with the Republican leader on the committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, on Sunday calling for accountability.

“While we wish Sec. Austin a speedy recovery, we are concerned with how the disclosure of the Secretary’s condition was handled,” the pair wrote. “Transparency is vitally important. Sec. Austin must provide these additional details on his health and the decision-making process that occurred in the past week as soon as possible,” they said.

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia also lambasted the defense secretary’s oversight as the U.S. deals with conflicts raging across the globe, but said it was too early to determine whether Austin should resign, according to Politico.

“Once he is released from the hospital and recuperated, he has some explaining to do,” he said. “This is not an acceptable situation for one of the most senior Cabinet-level responsibilities, and given what’s going on around the world.”

“It is a complicated world, there are wars going on, we have engaged in hostile action to take out a terrorist leader. The secretary of defense cannot go missing and cannot go missing unexplained,” he said.

A few Republicans, including Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio and House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York, have called for Austin to step down.

Micaela Burrow on January 8, 2024

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