Pentagon finds no one to blame for keeping Secretary Austin's hospital stays secret

There was no "ill intent" by staff, a review found, and no one was reprimanded.

February 26, 2024, 4:30 PM

No one will be reprimanded for keeping Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's hospital stays a secret -- including the secretary himself or his chief of staff -- after an internal Pentagon review of the matter concluded there was no indication of "ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate" the situation.

An unclassified summary of the Pentagon's findings says concerns about medical privacy and a rapidly changing situation were mostly to blame. But the summary didn't answer key questions about when individual members of his staff became aware of his condition and whether the defense secretary himself was advised to alert the White House but chose not to.

The Pentagon has provided additional classified details to Congress, officials said.

"As a learning organization, we will continue to learn and adjust," Austin wrote in a memo to his staff.

The findings didn't satisfy critics on Capitol Hill who say Austin and his top advisers had a duty to notify Congress, the White House, and the public when the secretary was unable to fulfill his duties.

Austin is expected to testify Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.

"Unsurprisingly, the review of Sec Austin's actions, conducted by his own subordinates & subject to his approval, HELD NO ONE ACCOUNTABLE," tweeted Rep. Mike Rogers, the Alabama Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, following release of the review. "This is why we are conducting our own investigation. We will seek answers at our hearing w/ Sec Austin on Thursday."

The defense secretary underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure for prostate cancer Dec. 22, which led to a urinary tract infection and serious intestinal complications. He was hospitalized again on Jan. 1, but the White House didn't learn about either event until Jan. 4. He was released Jan. 5.

Austin's deputy was granted authority over the Defense Department at various points, but she wasn't told why she had been put in charge, according to a detailed account provided to lawmakers.

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Monday that there was never any gap in authority, and that it was clear who was in charge at every point during those two hospital stays.

"This was an unprecedented situation and the staff was using the process and procedures that they have employed previously, and again to the best of their abilities, ensuring ... that there were no gaps in command and control," Ryder said at a briefing Monday.

When pressed on the point that no one was going to be held accountable, Ryder said Austin has already accepted responsibility. Austin has said previously that he called the president to apologize but never at any point considered resigning.

Austin "recognizes that we should have done a much better job notifying those who should have been notified. I will say that the Secretary is very proud of the team that he has supporting him," Ryder said.

The delay in informing President Biden and top administration officials of his hospitalization remains under investigation by lawmakers and the Pentagon's inspector general, which is expected to release a separate report later this year. President Biden publicly faulted Austin for not informing him earlier, telling reporters last month he still had confidence in Austin, but noted it was a lapse in judgment.

Austin told reporters earlier this month that his cancer diagnosis was a "gut punch" and that his first instinct was to keep it private. That was a mistake, he said.

"We did not handle this right. I did not handle this right," Austin said.

ABC's Matt Seyler and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

Related Topics