‘Democrats, along with Republicans, criticize Austin and his team for hospital secrecy, citing “incompetence.”

Senate Democrats and Republicans expressed their frustration after a classified briefing on Tuesday regarding the lack of transparency surrounding Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization and the Pentagon’s investigation into the incident.

Pentagon officials privately briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the department’s 30-day investigation into the issue. The investigation revealed that senior officials did not have any malicious intentions when they failed to inform the White House or the public about Austin’s hospitalization until several days later.

Some senators expressed their frustration that the review does not hold any staffers accountable for the breakdown in process and communication. They found it concerning that the White House was not informed about Austin’s cancer diagnosis in early December, his surgery in late December, or his hospitalization on January 1st due to complications from the procedure.

However, there was also anger directed towards Austin, who has previously acknowledged his role in the breakdown of communication, for making a poor judgment. Austin has admitted that his desire for privacy overrode his responsibility to inform both the commander in chief and the American people about his condition.

The frustrations from both sides of the aisle regarding the classified review, which is the initial investigation into Austin’s undisclosed hospitalization, suggest that this incident will continue to haunt the Secretary of Defense. This is particularly troubling as Austin is set to face similar inquiries in a public hearing on Thursday when he appears before the House Armed Services Committee.

“The secretary has assumed responsibility; he is evidently accountable,” stated Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “Individuals derive their guidance from their leader.”

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The report’s conclusion, which she agreed with, stated that there was no malicious intent by Austin or his staff.

Shaheen expressed his belief that there was no malicious intent behind the incident. He emphasized the importance of not jumping to conclusions and instead considering the possibility of incompetence as a reasonable explanation.

During the briefing, Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) joined lawmakers from both parties in expressing concerns about Defense Secretary Austin’s judgment.

“Both Republicans and Democrats expressed concerns regarding trust, judgment, and a lack of common sense, with regards to Lloyd Austin and his actions,” stated Cramer. “It’s clear that he was attempting to hide behind the process, but his intentions were blatantly obvious.”

Cramer refrained from demanding Austin’s resignation but stressed the importance of the defense secretary addressing the concerns raised during his next appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He emphasized the need for Austin to defend the administration’s budget request and criticized him for placing President Joe Biden in a difficult situation by keeping him uninformed.

“I’m not sure if he should resign or not,” Cramer commented on Austin’s situation. “If I were in his position, I would personally feel obligated to do so.”

According to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), it is crucial for the public to have access to the complete report, including the classified portions. He believes that the report should serve as the foundation for holding individuals accountable.

“I have serious concerns about how the Pentagon handled this apparent cover-up, and I believe there should be transparency and accountability,” Blumenthal expressed. “While I cannot determine if there will be any disciplinary action at this stage, it is crucial that the facts are made public.”

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The Pentagon released an unclassified summary of the review, which was ordered by Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, and sent to Congress late last week.

Austin was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in early January due to complications from a surgery he underwent in December to address his prostate cancer. Surprisingly, it took three days for President Joe Biden and other high-ranking officials at the White House to become aware of Austin’s hospitalization, despite his delegation of powers to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks. Furthermore, it took even longer for both Biden and the general public to be informed about Austin’s cancer diagnosis.

The public summary of the classified report states that the transfer of authorities followed standard procedures during the episode. However, it also acknowledges that Austin’s team encountered an unprecedented situation while the Pentagon chief was hospitalized. The summary emphasizes that due to privacy concerns, Austin’s team was reluctant to inquire or disclose any information they may have learned.

Cramer argued that the secrecy surrounding the briefing and report is intended to avoid public scrutiny and accountability.

According to Cramer, this briefing exemplifies a lack of accountability. He criticizes the decision to send a low-level bureaucrat to conduct a 30-day process evaluation, which involved interviewing a few individuals. Cramer points out that the resulting report, which is labeled as secret, does not actually contain any confidential information. He believes that this approach is an attempt to deflect or confuse the situation.

During the briefing, Jennifer Walsh, the director of administration and management at the Pentagon, conducted discussions. Republicans in the meeting contended that Austin was already obligated by law to inform Congress if he became incapacitated.

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Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) has expressed support for the initial review, emphasizing the importance of transparency and accountability. However, he also highlighted the need for senators to have access to the findings of the investigation conducted by the Pentagon’s inspector general. In January, the watchdog office announced its intention to assess the handling of Austin’s hospitalization, and the results of this investigation will provide valuable insights.

Reed praised the recent examination of Austin’s second hospitalization as a thorough and skillful piece of work. However, he believes that there are still other matters that need to be addressed, and the Inspector General is currently pursuing them.

He expressed his belief that there is a need for more comprehensive reporting and expressed optimism that this would be addressed in the Inspector General’s report.

Some lawmakers are growing impatient with Austin, indicating that their tolerance for delays is wearing thin.

In anticipation of an upcoming House Armed Services hearing that is expected to be tense, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the Republican chair of the panel, expressed concerns about the review. He argued that the lack of accountability stems from the fact that the review was conducted by the President’s own subordinates and is subject to his approval.

“We are conducting our own investigation to find answers,” stated Rogers on social media. “We will be seeking these answers during our upcoming hearing.”

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