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Lloyd Austin’s Pentagon Clears Austin of Wrongdoing Over Secret ‘Hospitalgate’ Incident

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COMMENTARY by Susan Katz Keating

Lloyd Austin’s Pentagon today cleared Austin of wrongdoing during the Defense Secretary’s five-day disappearance in early January, when he was hospitalized for complications following a medical procedure.

A Pentagon statement to that effect was accompanied by a memo that contains only an illegible signature with no printed indication of who wrote the memo. Defense officials told Soldier of Fortune the memo appears to bear Austin’s signature, but they cannot be sure.

“Today, the Department of Defense released the ‘Review of Notification Process for Assumption of Functions and Duties of the Secretary of Defense,’ the DoD wrote in a Monday afternoon statement. “The Sec. of Defense’s Chief of Staff directed a 30-day review to identify the relevant facts and circumstances during the period of January 1-5, 2024, and to evaluate the processes and procedures through which the Deputy Sec. of Defense was notified that she would carry out the functions and duties of the Sec. of Defense.”

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

The review did not find “any indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate,” according to a three-page unclassified summary released Monday. The review found that Austin’s aides “were hesitant to pry or share any information that they did learn” about Austin’s health because of concerns about his privacy, the memo said.

The U.S. security world was outraged that Austin spent five days in hospital – including four in an intensive care unit – before the Pentagon revealed the news late on a Friday evening. Much of the outrage centered on the revelation that Austin and some inside the Pentagon deliberately 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. 

Austin is scheduled to testify on Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee about the failure to notify Congress and the White House that he was in hospital.

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

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