Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called to testify before Congress about hospitalization

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is being summoned to testify before Congress about his failure to immediately notify the White House about his recent hospitalization.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers sent a letter to Austin on Thursday requesting his presence at a Feb. 14 hearing that will focus on how the Defense Department waited three days to tell White House officials that the Pentagon chief was in the intensive care unit. Rogers, R-Ala., launched a formal inquiry into the matter this month.

“Maintaining the most ready and lethal force possible requires that everyone in the national security community be able to rely upon the Secretary of Defense’s availability and transparency,” said Rogers in a four-page letter to Austin. “Regrettably, you have not exhibited these attributes throughout this most recent string of events.”

Rogers said he wants Austin to provide details about his communications with the White House and Defense Department officials, the temporary transfer of power to Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Austin’s official actions during his hospitalization.

“I expect your full honesty and cooperation in this matter,” Rogers said. “Anything short of that is completely unacceptable.”

A Defense Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday after being admitted there on Jan. 1 with complications related to treatment for prostate cancer.

The 70-year-old defense secretary has faced intense scrutiny over his delay in notifying the White House about the hospitalization.

Austin has said he takes “full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”

“I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed,” Austin said in a Jan. 6 statement. “I commit to doing better.”

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