Did Pentagon Chief Violate Rules With Secret Hospitalisation?

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin may have violated the law by failing to report his recent hospitalization to his boss, but likely only faces a reprimand from U.S. President Joe Biden, despite some calls for his resignation, two legal experts said on Monday.


Austin, 70, was admitted on New Year’s Day to an Intensive Care Unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for what the Pentagon has said were “complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” a fact the Defense Department kept under wraps for five days.

Austin sits just below Biden atop the chain of command of the U.S. military but his staff did not inform the White House of his condition for three days, and even his own top deputy was kept in the dark.


His handling of the situation appeared to be a stark breach of protocol for high-ranking cabinet officials, who typically inform the public of planned medical absences ahead of time and identify who will be filling in for them.

Austin’s duties require him to be available at a moment’s notice to respond to any national security crisis. He said on Saturday that he “could have done a better job” and took “full responsibility” for the secrecy over his hospitalization.

White House officials have said Biden still has “complete confidence” in Austin, who remains in the hospital but has returned to his regular duties.


Legal experts said Austin may have violated a U.S. law on “reporting of vacancies” that requires executive agencies to report top-level absences and the names of anyone serving in an acting capacity to both houses of Congress. The law is largely procedural and does not spell out any penalties for lapses.

Legal experts said that Austin appears to have clearly violated the rule but will likely face only a reprimand and a warning from Biden. Any top deputies or staff responsible could face similar consequences.

Austin may have also violated internal U.S. Department of Defense protocols, and officials say they are conducting a full review of the incident to determine how future lapses could be prevented.


Austin spoke to Biden, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the morning of Jan. 1 before he went to the hospital, the White House said. The “secure conference call” was about the Middle East. Biden was in St. Croix on vacation at the time.

There was then no contact with the White House or National Security Council until Jan. 4, the White House said. Biden and Austin next spoke on Jan. 6, the White House said.

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