Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called to testify about secretive hospitalization

Republican Mike Rogers requested Austin testify before the committee on Feb. 14.

January 19, 2024, 5:31 PM

A House committee asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday to testify publicly next month for his failure to disclose he was hospitalized after having complications from prostate cancer.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Austin asking him to testify before the committee on Feb. 14, 2024, at 10 a.m. to answer questions about his hospitalization and the botched notification process that followed.

"Congress must understand what happened and who made decisions to prevent the disclosure of the whereabouts of a cabinet secretary," Rogers wrote in the letter.

"Your unwillingness to provide candid and complete answers necessitates calling a Full Committee hearing on February 14, 2024, where the Committee expects to hear your direct testimony regarding decisions made to withhold information from the President, Congress, and the American people."

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.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during a joint press conference at Israel's Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Israel, Dec. 18, 2023.
Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters, FILE

Earlier this month, the Pentagon ordered a 30-day review of the notification process; the Defense Department inspector general is investigating as well.

Chairman Rogers said he recently spoke with Austin by phone and during that conversation, Austin did not provide sufficient answers to important questions about the situation, Rogers wrote.

Rep. Mike Rogers in the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 27, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, FILE

"I am alarmed you refused to answer whether you instructed your staff to not inform the President of the United States or anyone else of your hospitalization. Unfortunately, this leads me to believe that information is being withheld from Congress," Rogers wrote.

Rogers included a list of questions he still needs Austin to answer.

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

On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Jeff Jurgensen confirmed the department had received Rogers' request and provided the House Armed Services Committee with letters that other committees had requested in a "good-faith effort to respond to the Committee as expeditiously as possible" amid the ongoing reviews.

"The Department looks forward to continuing to work with the Committee to accommodate its legislative needs," Jurgensen said in a statement to ABC News. "As always, we will respond to congressional requests as appropriate, to include requests for the Secretary to testify."

In one of the letters, obtained by ABC News, Austin writes, "I want to be clear that at no time during my stay at Walter Reed were there any gaps in authorities or risk to command-and-control. Either I, or the Deputy Secretary of Defense, have always been fully prepared to support the President as Commander-in-Chief throughout the duration of my care at Walter Reed."

He added, "As I have stated previously, I take full responsibility for my personal decisions related to the disclosure of my cancer diagnosis. Health matters, particularly potentially serious illnesses such as cancer, are deeply personal, but I recognize that the office I hold requires a greater level of transparency."

Another letter to Rogers came from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who had been on vacation in Puerto Rico but with staff and a suite of communications. She learned of Austin's hospitalization on Jan. 4, days after Austin was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed National Army Medical Center on Jan. 1.

Her letter states, in part, "Let me assure you that at no time during the Secretary's hospitalization were there any gaps in authorities, nor was there ever a risk to command-and-control."

ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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