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Lloyd Austin’s ‘Hospitalgate’: Who Will Take the Fall Over Pentagon Chief’s Secret Absence?

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“Austin created a crisis where none existed,” one official said. “This threw the White House and the Pentagon into chaos, and it was completely unnecessary. He needs to turn in his resignation.”

COMMENTARY by Susan Katz Keating

Official Washington, D.C. is making bets on who will take the fall over Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin‘s secret hospital stay. Wagers are heavy that someone in Austin’s office will get booted over “Hospitalgate,” for not letting anyone know for five days that the SecDef was being treated for complications following surgery. And, while no one directly told Soldier of Fortune that Austin himself would be fired, two security officials suggested that the defense chief resign.

“Austin created a crisis where none existed,” one official said. “This threw the White House and the Pentagon into chaos, and it was completely unnecessary. He needs to turn in his resignation.”

“Because of Austin, people are asking serious questions about national defense,” another official said. “Who is in charge, and are we as a nation safe? Those questions never should cross anyone’s mind for a moment. The only way to move forward is for the SecDef to step down.”

Both officials spoke to Soldier of Fortune without attribution because they are not authorized to talk to the media about sensitive issues.

READ MORE: Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin Was MIA for 5 Days; How Come No One Noticed?

The U.S. security world is rightly outraged that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently spent five days in hospital – including four in an intensive care unit – before the Pentagon revealed the news late on Friday evening. Much of the outrage has centered on the revelation that Austin and the Pentagon kept the whole thing secret. Only Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, knew that Austin was in the ICU. Brown didn’t tell anyone, possibly because he assumed they already knew.

They didn’t. Not even President Joe Biden, the National Security Council, Deputy Kathleen Hicks, Congress, nor the media. When word trickled out on Friday night, the outrage was palpable.

Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee, demanded a briefing and consequences.

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday criticized the Pentagon for how it handled the incident.

“Somebody dropped the ball for Secretary Austin on that one,” Esper said on CNN. “It’s an important issue. Very important position, and so people want to know if there’s a steady hand there at the wheel at all times.”

Both Austin and the Pentagon responded with what passed for appeasement. Austin promised to “do better” from here on out, and the Pentagon’s Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder on Sunday offered an update.

Ryder confirmed that Austin as of Jan. 7 remained hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“Since resuming his duties on Friday evening, the Secretary has received operational updates and has provided necessary guidance to his team,” Ryder said in a statement. “He has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DoD’s day-to-day operations worldwide.” 

The statement could be read to imply that Austin had not received updates for a portion of his time in hospital.

Ryder did not say when Austin would leave Walter Reed.

“While we do not have a specific date for his release at this time, we will continue to provide updates on the Secretary’s status as they become available,” Ryder stated.

While Austin remains ensconced at the medical center, Washington continues to speculate on “where this is all going,” one official said.

“You can be sure that at the very least, someone will take a walk,” the official said. “Someone will be out of a job.”

Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief at Soldier of Fortune.

About Susan Katz Keating

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