Members of Congress, White House push for answers about Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization


(WASHINGTON) — Fallout continues Wednesday from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s secretive hospitalization, revealed to be for complications resulting from prostate cancer treatment, and the botched notification process that followed — including a Democrat’s call for his resignation and congressional Republicans’ demand that top Pentagon officials provide answers about who knew what and when.

Also, the White House is pointing the finger at the Pentagon for not answering relevant questions about Austin’s condition.

Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Deluzio called for Austin’s resignation Wednesday — the first Democrat to do so publicly.

“I have lost trust in Secretary Lloyd Austin’s leadership of the Defense Department due to the lack of transparency about his recent medical treatment and its impact on the continuity of the chain of command,” Deluzio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told ABC News’ Steven Portnoy on Wednesday that he is not ready to join Deluzio in calling for Austin to resign, but said it’s not “an irrational conclusion” to believe that the secretary should step down.

Pointedly, Smith said it’s his view, after discussing the matter with Pentagon officials, that Austin bares the sole responsibility for the lack of disclosure. He added that it’s his understanding that privacy laws would have prevented key DOD officials from sharing Austin’s health information.

“This is on Secretary Austin, not his team,” Smith said.

The Pentagon has come under fire for not being more transparent about information regarding Austin’s hospitalization and a communication lapse that left top Pentagon officials and the White House unaware of his condition for days.

Sen. Roger Wicker, the ranking Republican in the Senate Armed Services Committee, has requested that Pentagon officials who were involved in the notification process respond to his committee by Jan. 19 and answer questions related to the timing and notifications of Austin’s hospitalization and who made the decisions not to notify the White House and other senior Pentagon leaders.

“We are deeply troubled by the apparent breakdown in communications between your office and the rest of the Department of Defense, the White House, and Congress over the past two weeks,” Wicker wrote in a letter to Austin sent Wednesday.

“Further, the apparent failure to even notify your lawful successor in this case is a massive failure of judgment and negligence,” Wicker wrote in a letter signed by all the Republicans on the committee.

“It is an intolerable breach of trust with the American people at a dangerous moment for U.S. national security,” wrote Wicker.

Wicker labeled Austin’s initial public statement last week as “wholly insufficient.”

On Tuesday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., announced that he was also requesting answers from the Defense Department about the lack of transparency about Austin’s hospitalization.

Rogers wrote three letters to Austin, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Austin’s chief of staff Kelly Magsamen requesting information regarding the events surrounding Austin’s hospitalization.

“It is unacceptable that neither the Department of Defense (‘Department’), the White House, nor the Congress were accurately informed of your position or capacity,” Rogers wrote in the letters. “With wars in Ukraine and Israel, the idea that the White House and even your own Deputy did not understand the nature of your condition is patently unacceptable.”

The White House and President Joe Biden did not learn until Tuesday that Austin had prostate cancer and that complications from a surgical procedure to treat it had resulted in his ongoing hospitalization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.

Kirby told ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Selina Wang on Wednesday that Austin is a “key member of this administration, so we were all very curious as to what put him in the hospital.”

When asked what explanation the White House received from the Pentagon, Kirby simply reiterated that they didn’t get the information.

“There was no lack of curiosity on our part,” Kirby said.

The Pentagon has launched a 30-day review of the circumstances behind the delayed notifications of Austin’s hospitalization and has put in place immediate changes to ensure that top Pentagon and White House leaders are notified promptly whenever the defense secretary’s authorities are transferred to the deputy secretary.

The White House has also ordered an administration-wide review of current policies for similar notifications at other federal agencies.

The Pentagon said Wednesday that Austin is in the hospital Wednesday where he is “in contact with his senior staff and has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DOD’s day-to-day operations worldwide.”

ABC News’ Lauren Peller, Sarah Beth Hensley and Steven Portnoy contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.