Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pentagon inspector general will probe Austin hospitalization

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a joint press conference with Israel's defense minister, in Tel Aviv on Dec. 18, 2023.    (Albereto Pizzoli/Getty Images of North America/TNS)
By Peter Martin Bloomberg News

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog announced it will probe the circumstances around Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization, after he suffered complications from prostate surgery but didn’t tell the White House for days.

The investigation will look at whether Pentagon procedures are “sufficient to ensure timely and appropriate notifications and the effective transition of authorities as may be warranted” if senior leaders fall ill or become unavailable, Pentagon Inspector General Robert Storch said in a memo Thursday.

The announcement comes as pressure mounts on Austin to explain the lack of transparency about his hospitalization in a developing political crisis at the Pentagon.

Doctors for Austin said Tuesday that he had been hospitalized over complications from prostate-cancer surgery, shedding new light on health concerns that the White House acknowledged it didn’t fully know about until just before they were made public. Austin was admitted to intensive care for “severe pain” on Jan. 1, but didn’t tell the White House for several days that he’d been hospitalized and didn’t disclose the reason for several more. Austin remains hospitalized, although Pentagon officials say he is performing his duties and his prognosis is good.

Calls for an explanation from members of Congress have grown increasingly vocal in recent days.

On Thursday, every Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Austin demanding answers from him, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen.

“With conflicts around the world, it is preposterous that you and others in the Department allowed this to occur,” the members said. “This level of confusion surrounding not only your whereabouts, but your capacity to lead the Department has shaken what little confidence existed in any previous commitment to transparency.”

On Wednesday, Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi led 11 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in demanding answers from the Pentagon.

Biden has so far stood by his secretary of defense, but the fresh investigation and the drumbeat of congressional pressure ensures questions about Austin’s handling of his medical treatment and his absence will endure.