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Pentagon releases investigation into Sec Def Austin’s undisclosed hospitalization


Daily Caller News Foundation

The Pentagon determined Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had no malign intention by concealing his Jan. 1 hospitalization from key national security officials, Congress and the president, according to a summary released Monday.

In January, the Pentagon promised to conduct a 30-day internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Austin’s disappearance — while he was hospitalized to deal with post-operation complications — to discover whether any command procedures were not followed correctly. A final unclassified summary was released Monday, denying any attempt to cover up Austin’s illness or hospitalization and blaming privacy laws and Austin’s unclear medical situation for the confusion.

“The process for making decisions to transfer the Secretary’s authority could and should be improved,” the summary concluded. “Nothing examined during this review demonstrated any indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate,” it continued.

Austin transferred some of his authorities to the Pentagon’s second-in-command for days without disclosing to key officials, including the deputy defense secretary, that he had been hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Kelly Magsamen, Austin’s chief of staff, said in a memo. Austin’s second-in-command, Deputy Secretary 0f Defense Kathleen Hicks, had carried out some routine duties on his behalf while on vacation in Puerto Rico, seemingly without knowing that her boss was out of commission.

“Medical privacy laws prohibited medical providers from candid sharing of medical information with the Secretary’s staff,” the summary stated. Austin’s staff were “hesitant to pry or share any information that they did learn” over privacy concerns, it added.

“The Secretary’s medical situation remained in flux and as long as he remained in the Critical Care Unit, timely secured communications could not be assured.”

The review clarified the timeline of events.

Austin underwent a medical procedure to cure prostate cancer on Dec. 22, which was not disclosed, and was discharged to his home through the holidays, the report stated. On Jan. 1, he completed some official tasks from home before nausea and pain in his abdomen, hips and legs disrupted his work. By that evening, he had been transported by ambulance to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and admitted.

“Secretary Austin’s security and communications personnel remained nearby him at all times,” the review stated. He was admitted to the Critical Care Unit on Jan. 2, where he was not able to communicate in a timely manner for official business.

Austin’s military assistants contacted Hicks’ team and completed a “transfer of authorities” process that afternoon.

Austin’s senior military assistant told Magsamen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C. Q. Brown, as well as the assitant to the secretary for public affairs. While Hicks was alerted to the transfer and prepared to conduct official duties on his behalf, she did not learn Austin had been hospitalized until Jan. 5.

Congress has received the full classified review, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Monday. Austin is set to appear before Congress on Thursday to justify his undisclosed absence.

The Pentagon’s independent inspector general is conducting a separate review of the incident.

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Republished with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation

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