Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is under scrutiny from a growing number of congressional lawmakers demanding answers after Congress. The Ministry of Defense was late to notify administration officials, Congress, and the public of his hospitalization.
The Pentagon waited three days after Austin’s arrival at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to brief the White House National Security Council on Austin’s condition, including his four-day stay in the intensive care unit. News.
Austin Deputy Kathleen Hicks, who was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, found out about her condition. two days after completing their dutiesA senior defense official told NBC News on Sunday.
On Monday, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 4 Republican in the House, called on Austin to resign. He described the Pentagon’s decision to wait several days to notify administration officials of Austin’s hospitalization as a “shocking and completely unacceptable” decision.
“This lack of transparency demonstrates a shocking lack of judgment and a significant national security threat,” he said. “There must be the immediate resignation of Secretary Austin and those who lied for him, and full accountability beginning with a congressional investigation into this dangerous shirking of duty.”
Austin was still in the hospital Sunday night and no release date had been set, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement. Ryder noted that Austin is “recovering well” from complications from his qualifying surgery and that he will resume his duties. The Pentagon declined to provide further information on his condition or what led to his hospitalization, citing “confidentiality reasons.”
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby confirmed that the White House and the National Security Council had not been briefed on Austin’s situation until Jan. 4, but said President Joe Biden was focused on the defense secretary’s work. “health and healing”.
Three administration officials told NBC News that Biden is not considering firing Austin because he did not disclose his hospitalization last week. The president still has “full confidence and trust” in Austin, one of the officials said.
Biden and Austin spoke by phone Saturday evening, in what a senior administration official described as a “warm conversation,” with the president “wishing him the best in his recovery.”
The Pentagon said it did not intend to offer Austin’s resignation.
“Secretary Austin has no intention of resigning. He remains focused on fulfilling his duties as Secretary of Defense to defend our country,” Ryder said in a statement Monday.
Several members of Congress have indicated that Austin will face questions from lawmakers when he returns from the winter recess this week.
Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon’s delay was “unacceptable” and showed “flagrant disregard for the law” by the Defense Department.
“Members must be informed immediately of a full accounting of the facts,” Wicker said.
He added: “It is worrying that we now have more questions than answers. Why was the notification process not followed and who made the decision not to follow it? What role did the personal staff of the Minister of Defense play? When exactly was the president informed? What justification did the Department have for withholding information from the National Security Council? How powerless was the clerk to operate? “The fact that we don’t have any of this information is an indictment of an administration that has consistently flouted congressional authority in matters of national defense.”
Cotton demanded that Austin “immediately address the disturbing report” of the Pentagon and not immediately inform Biden or the National Security Council of his inability to perform his duties.
“The Secretary of Defense is the key link in the nuclear chain of command, including the president and the uniformed military, where the most critical decisions must be made within minutes. If this news is true, there must be consequences to this devastating accident,” Cotton said in a statement.
Don Bacon, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, told NBC News that Austin’s delayed announcement was a “terrible error of judgment” and warranted an “honest investigation.” The White House on the issue.
“With a zero-failure nuclear deterrence mission, the Secretary of Defense’s decision not to tell the White House or his deputy on leave was a terrible error of judgment,” he said. “But not just for our nuclear deterrence mission, but every day Russia, China, We need a clear chain of command with Iran and Hamas.”
“I would like to hear an honest opinion [the] Before the White House, devoid of its usual bluster, called for his resignation,” he said.
A Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee did not call for Austin’s resignation, but told NBC News that the defense secretary should hold a press conference to explain himself.
“I think it’s very, very outrageous that the White House was not informed,” the Democrat said. “I don’t need him to resign, but I think he needs to explain that to the public.”
A former CIA official, D-Va. Rep. Abigail Spanberger said the White House should have been “immediately” aware of Austin’s hospitalization, but acknowledged possible reasons why his condition was not initially made public.
“The lack of a public statement is perfectly acceptable to me. There are various reasons why the health and, as you know, the ongoing work of our senior public officials should not be aired for foreign governments to hear and learn about,” he said. Interview on MSNBC.
“But within, of course [Defense] The department, and certainly the White House, should have been notified immediately,” he added, calling for a “review to make sure there is no threat to national security protocols or processes because of the situation.”
Austin made a comment on Saturday “full responsibility” for non-disclosure.
On Air Force One, Kirby told reporters that Biden “respects Secretary Austin’s handling of the lack of transparency. He also respects the amazing job he’s done as secretary of defense and how he’s dealt with multiple crises over the last three years. And his advice, sincere greatly appreciates his leadership and is still looking forward to his return.”
When asked if the president would request a formal investigation into the delay in communicating Austin’s hospitalization to White House officials, Kirby said he was waiting to see if the NSC made any changes or modifications to improve processes. and procedures for Cabinet Secretaries to disclose medical procedures and hospitalizations.