Senator Roger Wicker, the leading Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, strongly criticized the Pentagon for what he termed a “shocking defiance of the law” due to its failure to promptly disclose Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization to the president, the National Security Council, and Congress. He called for an immediate briefing from the administration, emphasizing the need for transparency in such matters.
Wicker expressed his relief at Austin’s improved condition and wished him a speedy recovery. However, he emphasized the unacceptable nature of the Department of Defense intentionally withholding information about the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for several days. Wicker stated that when one of the National Command Authorities is unable to fulfill their duties, it is crucial for military families, Members of Congress, and the public to be fully informed about the circumstances. He insisted that Members should receive a comprehensive briefing on the facts without delay.
Austin was hospitalized on January 1 after complications arising from an elective medical procedure. Despite being in the hospital, Austin reportedly did not inform National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan until January 4, who then informed President Joe Biden. The Pentagon released a statement on January 5, revealing Austin’s hospitalization, but it lacked details about the procedure, complications, or Austin’s current hospital status. Wicker raised concerns about the administration’s failure to disclose information in a timely manner, citing previous incidents like the Chinese spy balloon and the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Wicker expressed worry over the lack of transparency, posing questions about the notification process, the role of the Secretary of Defense’s staff, the timing of the President’s notification, and the justification for withholding information from the National Security Council. He criticized the administration for consistently disregarding Congressional authority on national defense matters, stating that the absence of crucial information raises further doubts about the administration’s accountability.