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Defense Secretary Austin's Health Emergency Kept Secret from White House and Congress

It wasn’t just the public and Pentagon reporters who didn’t know that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized last week, it turns out that the White House and Congress didn’t know either. The news came as a shock to top staff, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, as they were unaware the DOD chief was dealing with complications following an elective medical procedure, two unnamed officials told Politico. National Security Council staffers were surprised it took the Pentagon so long to let them know of Austin’s condition. The Pentagon didn’t make the information public until the evening of Jan. 5, notifying Congress about 15 minutes before releasing a public statement. “This should not have happened this way,” said one of the U.S. officials. The NSC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder explained the delay yesterday: “It was an evolving situation, in which we had to consider a number of factors, including medical and personal privacy issues.” Austin, Politico says, is known for his privacy and has often shunned the limelight as a four-star general and now as Pentagon chief. While he does engage the press, he is averse to speaking with the media regularly.

Austin issued his own statement late yesterday in which he thanked the staff at Walter Reed hospital for his treatment. “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. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”