House committee seeks answers from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on hospitalization

Washington — The House Armed Services Committee has asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to testify before lawmakers next month about his decision not to disclose his recent hospitalization to the White House.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the Alabama Republican who chairs the panel, told Austin in a letter Thursday that he is “alarmed” by the secretary’s refusal to answer whether he instructed staff not to inform President Biden or others about his hospitalization to treat complications stemming prostate cancer surgery.

Rogers indicated that he and Austin spoke recently about the events surrounding his hospital stay and medical procedures, but said he failed to address a “concerning number of questions.”

“Congress must understand what happened and who made decisions to prevent the disclosure of the whereabouts of a Cabinet secretary,” Rogers wrote.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin walks down the steps of the Pentagon on Dec. 4, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin walks down the steps of the Pentagon on Dec. 4, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia. 

Win McNamee/Getty Images

He told Austin that the full Armed Services panel will be convening for a hearing on Feb. 14, during which Austin should be prepared to address “decisions made to withhold information from the president, Congress and the American people.”

“I expect your full honesty and cooperation in this matter,” Rogers wrote. “Anything short of that is completely unacceptable.”

Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, ending a two-week stay that brought significant scrutiny to the defense secretary over his lack of transparency surrounding his hospitalization. The Pentagon said Austin is working remotely while he recovers.

The defense secretary, 70, underwent a procedure to remove his prostate on Dec. 22 and then was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed on New Year’s Day after experiencing “severe abdominal, hip and leg pain,” according to his doctors. 

The defense secretary was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and buildup of fluids affecting his small intestines, which required a tube to be placed through his nose to drain his stomach.

Austin’s top aides at the Pentagon didn’t notify the White House, Congress or the public about his Jan. 1 hospitalization or condition for several days, on Jan. 4. Mr. Biden only learned of the secretary’s prostate cancer diagnosis on Jan. 9.

In addition to Congress’ examination, the Defense Department’s inspector general has said it will review the “roles, processes and actions” surrounding the events surrounding Austin’s medical condition and hospitalization.

Eleanor Watson contributed to this report.

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