Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is one of the most reclusive Pentagon chiefs in recent memory. That’s creating a major problem for him now.
Austin’s failure to inform his most senior advisers, congressional leaders and even President Joe Biden of his hospitalization last week due to complications from a medical procedure has erupted into a controversy that’s left senior White House and Pentagon officials infuriated and befuddled. Some Republicans quickly called for investigations or even for Austin to be disciplined or fired.
Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. C.Q. Brown was not informed of Austin’s situation until Tuesday, the day after his hospitalization, a senior Defense Department official told POLITICO on Sunday. Even Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who assumed some of his duties while he was in the hospital, did not know his whereabouts until Thursday, a second senior DOD official said after CNN first reported the news.
“My sense is his desire to be private about a routine medical procedure kind of backfired when it didn’t go as planned,” said one senior U.S. official. “He’s so loyal and duty-bound. It’s all just very odd.”
Former and current U.S. officials who have worked with Austin say he is well-known as an introvert, shunning the cameras and keeping only a few close confidantes during his decades-long military career. As the four-star general overseeing U.S. Central Command during the Iraq drawdown, he rarely held press conferences. As defense secretary, in contrast to his predecessors, he takes only a handful of media on official travel. He has not done a press conference in the Pentagon since last July, although he regularly briefs the press during his travels. [Continue reading…]