Defense Secretary Admits Being Unreachable in Hospital, Blames Staff for Not Telling Biden Sooner

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies during a House Committee on Armed Services hea

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin claimed there was no break in the chain of command when he was hospitalized in January for days without telling President Biden, but admitted on Thursday it was his aides who decided to transfer his authorities to his deputy when he could not be reached and blamed his staff for not telling the president sooner.

Austin made the admission under questioning from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a Marine veteran, who asked him if he had made the decision to transfer his authorities to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks on January 2, after he entered critical care.

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U.S. House Armed Services Committee

“I did not. The decision was whether or not we, they had reached a point threshold where I could not communicate or have access to secure communications, and so that triggers the process –,” Austin began.

“So your condition was severe such that you could not personally action the transfer of authority?” Gallagher pressed.

Austin said it was not his physical condition, but the fact that his staff could “not get to him” and he did not have access to secure communications.

“The issue was number one, they could not get to me, but number two, it was access to secure communications. It had nothing to do with my physical condition at the time,” Austin said.

“And yet the decision was made. So who made the decision?” Gallagher asked.

“Well, as the, as my assistants conferred, they agreed that we had reached that threshold and they should put the process in place and they did and I think it was the right decision,” Austin admitted.

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US Department of Defense via Storyful

“So your military assistants made the decision to transfer authority to the Deputy Secretary of Defense?” Gallagher asked incredulously.

“The military aides made the decision to initiate the process,” Austin said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder insisted during a press briefing Monday that there was “no gap” in command and control.

“I’m not going to get into a specific timeline other than there was no gap,” Ryder said.

Austin later admitted under questioning from Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI) that he did not have a phone with him while he was hospitalized, and blamed his staff for not informing the president after he was admitted to the hospital.

“In terms of the hospitalization, January 1 throughout, again, I was the patient. And so my expectation is that the organization informed the right agencies,” Austin said.

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When McClain asked, “So it wasn’t your fault, it was the staff’s fault?” Austin responded, “Well, I didn’t have access to any kind of communications during that time.”

“You didn’t have a phone? Nothing?” she asked. Austin responded, “No.”

Austin also told House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a member of the committee, that if a junior service member failed to report for duty, he would expect a junior service member’s “organization would do the right thing to notify senior leaders.”

Stefanik called the breakdown in the chain of command “unacceptable” and slammed him for putting deployed troops’ lives at risk.

“You said there was never a break in command and control. But yet the President of the United States was not aware that you are outside of the chain of command. So is the President not a part of this command and control. Don’t you believe that the commander in chief and the sector that is critical for command and control?” she asked Austin.

Austin acknowledged the president “is clearly at the top of the chain in terms of command and control,” but argued, “what’s important is that we provide him with credible options, and that that he can pursue to address any situation and it would have happened in this case.”

Stefanik fired back, “Except he was unaware. The President was unaware of this breakdown in command and control and you are not there in terms of who he would hear from.”

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