Horst D. Deckert

Defense Secretary Austin Finally Leaves Hospital After 2 Weeks, Refuses To Resign

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Austin had been admitted to Walter Reed hospital on January 1st for complications following prostate cancer surgery

Amid a backdrop of scandal and controversy while still rebuffing calls to resign, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has been released from the hospital Monday, following a full two week stint there, with the first four days of that in ICU wherein the White House was kept in the dark.

Austin had been admitted to Walter Reed hospital on January 1st for complications following prostate cancer surgery. A new Pentagon statement says he is still going to work remotely from home “for a period of time” before returning to his office. The statement sought to assure that he has “full access” to secure communications capabilities.

“Secretary Austin’s prostate cancer was treated early and effectively, and his prognosis is excellent,” Austin’s doctors have assessed.

It was on Jan. 5th that the Pentagon first disclosed to the public that he had been hospitalized. For the initial part of that week prior, even the White House didn’t know, and his deputy Kathleen Hicks was also unaware of the full status of his condition while on vacation in Puerto Rico. 

The Pentagon has since claimed that she was running things from her hotel room. But this is dubious given she appears not to have been fully aware that she was effectively in charge. She merely was tasked with certain duties instead.

The National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby has also asserted that Austin’s overseeing the country’s national security from the hospital while recovering “was no different than it would be on any other given day, except that he was briefing the president on options and engaged in the discussions from the hospital.”

But bipartisan Congressional leaders have demanded answers, which have not been forthcoming. A letter from Senate armed services committee chair, Jack Reed (D) and Senator Roger Wicker (R) have demanded an explanation for the serious lapse and breach in protocol:

We are concerned that critical notification procedures were not followed while you were receiving medical care the past several weeks,” they wrote, adding that their committee “has serious questions about this incident, and members need a full accounting to ensure it never happens again”.

Essentially there was no one at the helm of the Department of Defense while the nation is embroiled in several hotspots from Ukraine to the Red Sea and Yemen. 

“President Joe Biden is not considering firing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after he did not tell the White House about his emergency hospitalization…one official noted, the president would not accept a resignation if Austin were to offer one.” https://t.co/SyjrnKdq90

— Shashank Joshi (@shashj) January 8, 2024

To review, CBS previously compiled a timeline of major events related to Austin’s absence from his post as Pentagon chief:

  • Early December 2023: Medical providers identify prostate cancer, which requires treatment. (Statement from officials at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center officials, Jan. 9) 
  • Dec. 22: Austin undergoes an elective medical procedure while on leave. (Ryder discloses procedure on Jan. 5; Ryder discloses the date of the procedure on Jan. 7)
  • Dec. 23: Austin is discharged and goes home. (Ryder briefing, Jan. 8)
  • Jan. 1, 2024: President Biden holds a call on the situation in the Middle East with Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan. (National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby briefing, Jan. 8).
  • Jan. 1: Austin experiences “severe abdominal, leg, and hip pain” and is transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Initial evaluation reveals a urinary tract infection. (Walter Reed Statement, Jan. 9). 
  • Jan. 2: Austin is transferred to the intensive care unit for close monitoring and a higher level of care. (Walter Reed Statement, Jan. 9) 
  • Jan. 2: Some operational responsibilities are transferred to Hicks. (Ryder briefing, Jan. 8)
  • Jan. 2: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown is notified Austin has been hospitalized. (Ryder briefing, Jan. 8)  
  • Jan. 2: Pentagon press secretary, Austin’s chief of staff and Austin’s senior military adviser learn Austin is in the hospital. (Ryder briefing, Jan. 8.)
  • Jan. 4: The U.S. conducts a strike in Baghdad at 12 p.m. local time, according to a defense official. Ryder said on Jan. 8 that Mr. Biden and Austin had approved the strike before Austin was hospitalized. 
  • Jan. 4: Defense Department chief of staff notifies deputy secretary of defense and the White House that Austin is in the hospital. President Biden learns Austin has been hospitalized. (Ryder briefing, Jan. 8; Kirby briefing, Jan. 9)
  • Jan. 5: Senate Armed Services Committee is informed of Austin’s hospitalization. (A Senate Armed Services Committee aide told CBS News). 
  • Jan. 5: Pentagon releases first public statement that says Austin has been hospitalized since Jan. 1. 
  • Jan. 5: Austin resumes full duties from Walter Reed in the evening. (Ryder statement, Jan. 7)
  • Jan. 6: Austin releases a statement taking responsibility for delayed disclosure. 
  • Jan. 6: Mr. Biden and Austin speak; the president says he has full confidence in Austin. (U.S. official, Jan. 8). 
  • Jan. 8: Austin is no longer in ICU and is recovering in a private area of Walter Reed. (Ryder briefing, Jan. 8)
  • Jan. 9: Pentagon releases statement from Walter Reed Military Medical Center disclosing that the procedure Austin had undergone was a prostatectomy “to treat and cure prostate cancer.”
  • Jan. 9: President Biden is informed of Austin’s diagnosis. (Kirby briefing, Jan. 9) 

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