US defense chief under fire from lawmakers over secret hospital stay

US defense chief under fire from lawmakers over secret hospital stay

Lloyd Austin says he takes 'full responsibility' for delayed notification to president, lawmakers about his hospitalization

By Merve Aydogan

TORONTO, Canada (AA) - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that he takes “full responsibility” for failing to promptly notify the president and lawmakers of his hospitalization over a health crisis related to prostate cancer.

Testifying at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Austin said there were no gaps in the control of the Defense Department.

"There was never any lapse in authorities or in command and control. At all times, either I or the deputy secretary was in a position to conduct the duties of my office," he said.

Admitting that he "did not handle it right," he said he had "apologized directly to the President (Joe Biden) and I take full responsibility. I'm also taking responsibility for some institutional changes to make sure that this cannot happen again."

Austin's assurances did not stop lawmakers from strongly criticizing him over his negligence to report his absence, however.

"It's totally unacceptable that it took three days to inform the President of the United States that the Secretary of Defense was in the hospital and not in control of the Pentagon,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

"The chain of command doesn't work when the commander in chief doesn't know who to call," he said, stressing that "it's important in a democracy that public officials are held accountable when mistakes are made."

Rep. Jim Banks in his remarks said he was "surprised" that the president did not call for Austin's resignation.

"The president has expressed full faith and confidence in me," Austin responded.

Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer late last year and had surgery on Dec. 22. However, complications arose, leading to his hospitalization due to severe pain on Jan. 1.

He stayed in intensive care for treatment until Jan. 15 and worked remotely from home until Jan. 29.

US defense chief under fire from lawmakers over secret hospital stay

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