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Defense Secretary Austin takes personal responsibility for keeping hospitalization secret

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr wrote on X that "The lack of disclosure that Sec Def was ill is a huge strategic failure."

Published: January 6, 2024 11:20am

Updated: January 6, 2024 7:12pm

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took personal responsibility Saturday night for failing to alert the public for five days that he was  hospitalized over complications from an elective procedure. “I recognize I could have done better,” he said.

News media, political officials and defense experts expressed alarm that Austin had been hospitalized Monday and the public wasn’t told until a statement issued Friday evening by the Pentagon.

CNN reported Saturday night that even President Joe Biden was unaware of Austin’s hospitalization for days. Just the News was unable to immediately corroborate that report.

But the furor across Washington that the highest ranking civilian defense official was out of commission for days without notice prompted Austin to issue a statement.

Austin thanked medical personnel at Walter Reed Medical Center for administering excellent care and said he was “on the mend.”


“I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” he said.

“But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure,” he said.

The first hint Austin had been hospitalized for five days had come in a Pentagon statement Friday night.

"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," the statement read.

It added that Austin was in recovery and expected to return to his duties that day, and that "At all times, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required."  

Pentagon correspondents have been publicly asking why it took so long for the Pentagon to make this announcement. 

“Lots of questions being asked why it took the Pentagon so long to acknowledge this," ABC News senior Pentagon reporter Luis Martinez wrote on the social media platform, X.

Former CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr wrote on X that "The lack of disclosure that Sec Def was ill is a huge strategic failure," and that she doesn't "see a way forward for believing the Pentagon tells the truth on anything."

The Pentagon Press Association wrote a letter to public officials at the DOD, stating that the "public has a right to know when U.S. Cabinet members are hospitalized, under anesthesia or when duties are delegated as the result of any medical procedure." 

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