The Commander-in-Chief Only Found Out Tuesday Why His Defense Secretary Was in ICU

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PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Jan. 5, 2023. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin listens at right. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The reason for U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s undisclosed hospital stay has finally been revealed after fueling days of questions about transparency and competency in the Biden administration.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that the 70-year-old Austin is being treated for prostate cancer. It’s the first time the public or even President Biden has been made aware of Austin’s condition after he was in the ICU for days without telling the White House.

The president is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military, and all of his military orders travel through the Defense Secretary before they can be executed by military commanders. The dayslong breach in the chain of command has caused a major controversy in Washington.

“It’s highly unusual for any Cabinet secretary not to notify the president, the White House chief of staff, or the NSC of any absence, especially a medical one,” explained Cedric Leighton, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.

The Defense Secretary was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Dec. 22 and underwent surgery to treat the cancer. Later he was readmitted and has been hospitalized since New Year’s Day after suffering complications. 

Even though he had been admitted to the ICU, neither the White House nor his deputy, who eventually assumed temporary authority, were informed of his condition.

“I think we all recognize – and I think the Pentagon has been very, very honest with themselves – about the challenge to credibility by what has transpired here, and by how hard it was for them to be fully transparent with the American people,” John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said Tuesday. “We all recognize that this didn’t unfold the way it should have on so many levels.”

Austin was still hospitalized as of Wednesday but has reportedly resumed his duties from his hospital bed.

Senior congressional Republicans are investigating whether Austin ignored legal requirements to inform Congress as a senior White House Cabinet official.

And the White House has now ordered a review of protocols for notification and transferring authority to subordinates for Cabinet officials.

There is currently no policy in the Biden administration on how absences of Cabinet officials should be handled, according to people familiar with the matter as cited in an AP report.

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