Lloyd J. Austin III
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III. Photo credit: US Secretary of Defense / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Calls for transparency are growing louder following the revelation that Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III failed to inform anyone, including the White House, when he was incapacitated in intensive care.

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It all probably sounded pretty simple in theory: Right after the holidays, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III would pop into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for an “elective medical procedure” and be released a couple of days later without anybody being any wiser. But what seemed so straightforward has become a major scandal in the nation’s capital, and, even though President Joe Biden so far stands by his Pentagon chief, the fallout could still cost Austin his job. 

Complications during the unspecified procedure resulted in him having to receive intensive care. However, Austin and his team failed to inform anybody, including the White House, that he was incapacitated. 

This has now resulted in bipartisan calls for an investigation into the matter, harsh criticism on Capitol Hill, and some Republicans calling for Austin to resign. 

Perhaps most notably was the joint statement released by the chairman and the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. 

“While we wish Sec. Austin a speedy recovery, we are concerned with how the disclosure of the Secretary’s condition was handled,” stated Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA). “Several questions remain unanswered including what the medical procedure and resulting complications were, what the Secretary’s current health status is, how and when the delegation of the Secretary’s responsibilities were made, and the reason for the delay in notification to the President and Congress.”

The fact that both Republicans and Democrats are clearly unhappy about the way this was handled does not bode well for Austin… and neither does the fact that there are still so many questions surrounding what happened.

“Transparency is vitally important. Sec. Austin must provide these additional details on his health and the decision-making process that occurred in the past week as soon as possible,” the lawmakers said.

In his own statement, Austin wasted an opportunity to provide answers and clarify what happened. 

He merely thanked the staff at Walter Reed and acknowledged that his efforts to keep his hospitalization a secret had now resulted in a major headache for him and the White House.

“I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” Austin stated. “But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”

That is not the kind of statement that ends speculation in Washington, DC. 

Not surprisingly, several prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, called for Austin to resign even as the White House indicated that Biden would not accept his resignation.

However, don’t be surprised if that changes in the coming days as more details emerge about the medical procedure and when it was revealed who was, or, more importantly, was not, in charge of the Department of Defense while Austin was incapacitated. 


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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