Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday agreed to testify on Capitol Hill later this month regarding his curious decision to shield his prostate cancer diagnosis and recent hospitalization from White House and Pentagon officials, including President Biden.
Austin, 70, is expected to be grilled by lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 29, according to multiple reports.
In January, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) launched a formal congressional investigation into the Defense chief’s hospitalization.
Rogers demanded a “detailed account” of Austin’s hospital stay and how he communicated his absence to Pentagon and Biden administration officials.
The Alabama Republican called Austin’s effort to conceal his Jan. 1 admittance to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after complications related to a December surgery to treat prostate cancer “outrageous,” in letters to Austin, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and the defense secretary’s Chief of Staff Kelly Magsamen.
“With wars in Ukraine and Israel, the idea that the White House and even your own Deputy did not understand the nature of your condition is patently unacceptable,” Rogers scolded Austin in his missive.
Rogers indicated in a follow-up letter demanding Austin’s testimony that he’s spoken with the defense secretary since the scandal broke and that Austin has “promised full transparency into questions” related to his hospitalization.
Austin returned to the Pentagon on Jan. 29, exactly four weeks after he was taken by ambulance from his Virginia home in severe pain from a urinary tract infection following his Dec. 22 prostatectomy.
Last week, the defense secretary apologized for the secrecy surrounding his hospitalization and told reporters it was his “first instinct” to keep his cancer diagnosis to himself despite his prominent cabinet position.
“I did not handle this right,” the Pentagon chief told reporters on Feb. 1. “I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public. I apologize to my teammates, and to the American people.”
Several Republicans and at least one Democrat in Congress have called for Austin’s resignation over the incident.
“At every moment, either I or the deputy secretary was in full charge,” Austin told reporters, maintaining there were “no gaps in authorities” or risks to “command in control” during his absence.