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Wicker calls failure to disclose Defense Secretary’s medical complications an indictment of the Biden Administration

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

Hearings to examine military to civilian transition, focusing on success after service. (Official U.S. Senate photo by Rosa Pineda)

Senator Roger Wicker demands answers as to why the Department of Defense deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days.

Senator Roger Wicker (R) is raising concerns over the Department of Defense “deliberately” withholding the medical condition of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin from not only the public, but from the National Security Advisor, Congressional officials and President Joe Biden.

It has come to light that Secretary Austin was reportedly admitted to the hospital on New Year’s Day. The reason given was complications from an “elective medical procedure.” However, multiple reports now say Austin and the Department of Defense did not inform National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan until January 4, who then brought President Biden up to speed.

Senator Wicker, the senior U.S. Senator from Mississippi and the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Saturday that while he was glad to hear Secretary Austin is in improved condition, “the fact remains that the Department of Defense deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days.” Wicker said such actions are “unacceptable,” saying it is a defiance of the law.

“We are learning more every hour about the Department’s shocking defiance of the law. When one of the country’s two National Command Authorities is unable to perform their duties, military families, Members of Congress, and the American public deserve to know the full extent of the circumstances,” said Senator Wicker.

Wicker said this episode further erodes trust in the Biden Administration, “which has repeatedly failed to inform the public in a timely fashion about critical events such as the Chinese spy balloon and the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Senator Wicker wants Senate Members briefed on a full accounting of the facts immediately.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III official portrait session, July 6, 2023. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)

“Worryingly, we now have more questions than answers,” Wicker continued, asking, “Why was the notification process under 5 U.S.C. 3349 not followed and who made the determination not to follow it? What role did the Secretary of Defense’s staff play? When exactly was the President notified? What justification did the Department have for withholding information from the National Security Council? To what extent was the Secretary incapacitated by his surgery?”

Senator Wicker said the very fact that Members have none of this information “is an indictment of an administration which consistently holds Congressional authority on national defense matters in contempt.”

According to a release from the Pentagon on Sunday, Secretary Austin remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center but is recovering well and in good spirits, adding that Austin spoke with President Biden over the weekend.

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

A report from Reuters on Monday said Biden was not considering firing Austin as Secretary of Defense over the failure to disclose his medical condition.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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