U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has called for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to provide an explanation regarding the delayed notification to the White House and senior officials about his recent hospitalization. This revelation occurred days after the hospitalization took place, adding complexity to the Biden administration’s management of various national security concerns on the international stage.

According to Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Austin was admitted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday due to complications following a recent elective medical procedure. The information was disclosed to the press on Friday, the same day Ryder made the announcement.

Ryder cited “medical and personal privacy issues” as the reason for not immediately informing the media about the hospitalization. However, it has been confirmed that key individuals, including those from the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, congressional leaders, and the White House, were not promptly notified about Austin’s hospitalization.

Senator Cotton emphasized the need for Secretary Austin to promptly address the concerning report indicating that the Department of Defense failed to immediately inform President Biden and the National Security Council about his hospitalization and consequent inability to fulfill his duties. In a statement released on Saturday, Cotton highlighted the critical role of the Secretary of Defense as the pivotal link in the chain of command connecting the president to the uniformed military, especially in time-sensitive situations such as decisions within the nuclear chain of command.

Expressing concern, Cotton stated that if the reported information is accurate, there should be consequences for this “shocking breakdown.” Additionally, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged Austin’s well-being but condemned the Defense Department’s secrecy, referring to it as a “shocking defiance of the law.”

Senator Wicker emphasized the importance of transparency when one of the National Command Authorities is unable to fulfill their responsibilities, stating, “Military families, Members of Congress, and the American public deserve to know the full extent of the circumstances.” He expressed concern that this episode contributes to a growing lack of trust in the Biden Administration, citing previous instances such as delayed disclosures related to the Chinese spy balloon and the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Wicker called for immediate briefings to Members of Congress, urging a comprehensive account of the facts surrounding Secretary Austin’s hospitalization. Following Austin’s admission to the hospital, his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, assumed some of his duties during the specified period, even though she was on a previously scheduled vacation and not physically present at the Pentagon, according to an official source.

The delayed notifications regarding Austin’s hospitalization raised additional concerns. The National Security Council and President Biden were reportedly informed on Thursday, while Congress received the information on Friday, just minutes before a public statement was issued to the press. Notably, even senior Pentagon officials were reportedly not promptly notified of the situation.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Secretary Austin expressed gratitude to the doctors at Walter Reed, as well as to colleagues and friends, while also acknowledging concerns regarding transparency. “I am very relieved to be recovering and eagerly anticipate my return to the Pentagon,” he stated. Austin recognized the media’s transparency concerns and admitted that he could have done a better job ensuring the public was adequately informed. He committed to improving in this regard but emphasized that the medical procedure was a personal decision for which he takes full responsibility.

Senator Wicker emphasized the entitlement of leaders to understand why the notification process was not followed. He raised questions about the justification for withholding Austin’s status from the National Security Council and the extent of his incapacitation, stating, “The absence of this information reflects poorly on an administration that consistently disregards Congressional authority on national defense matters.”

The delayed release of information sparked outrage in the press. The Pentagon Press Association (PPA), representing journalists covering the Pentagon, expressed significant concerns in a letter from its board of directors to Secretary Austin’s personnel on Friday evening. The letter criticized the Defense Department for failing to promptly notify the public and the media about Austin’s hospitalization, deeming the delayed disclosure on a Friday evening as an outrage.

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