#Internal Pentagon review finds no ‘ill intent’ during Austin’s hospitalization

The Pentagon on Monday released the results of a 30-day review that found no attempt to hide Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s secret hospitalizations in December and January, effectively absolving officials of any wrongdoing. 

Although a brief, unclassified summary of the review found processes could be improved, “nothing examined during this review demonstrated any indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate” the transfer of authority during Austin’s hospitalizations, according to the document. 

The rest of the review, which was carried out by Defense Department (DOD) officials, remains classified. 

The three-page summary claims Austin’s staff was limited in several “significant ways” in failing to share information, including by medical privacy laws and staff “hesitant to pry or share any information that they did learn” due to privacy reasons. 

The report also claims that because Austin’s medical situation remained in flux, “timely secured communications could not be assured.” 

Austin entered the hospital on Jan. 1 and stayed for two weeks to treat an infection stemming from an earlier surgery in December to treat prostate cancer. But Austin did not inform the White House or his deputy Kathleen Hicks of the situation until Jan. 4, even though he had transferred his duties as Defense secretary to her on Jan. 2.  

Congress and the public, meanwhile, did not learn Austin had been hospitalized until Jan. 5, drawing sharp criticism from lawmakers and the press. 

Austin had also not informed the White House or other top Pentagon officials of his cancer diagnosis, which he was given in early December.   

The incident prompted Kelly Magsamen, Austin’s chief of staff, to direct the DOD’s administration and management director to conduct an internal 30-day review of whether officials followed policies and procedures in transferring authority when Austin entered the hospital, which was released Monday.  

“Although, as hindsight has shown, the process for making decisions to transfer the Secretary’s authority could and should be improved … nothing examined during this review demonstrated any indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate,” the review states. 

The Pentagon’s inspector general also launched a review of the situation.  

Austin, who reviewed the report, directed that its recommendations be implemented, according to a memo released alongside the unclassified summary. Among the recommendations are better information sharing and new guidance that would make an acting secretary better prepared to quickly step into the role if a transfer of authority is required. 

The Pentagon chief also earlier this month apologized for the gap in information. 

“I want to be crystal clear: We did not handle this right. I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis,” Austin said in a Feb. 1 press conference. “I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.” 

Austin is set to testify Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee about the events around his hospitalization. 

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