Defense Secretary Kept White House in the Dark About His Hospitalization

It took the Pentagon three and a half days to inform the White House that Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III had been hospitalized on New Year’s Day following complications from an elective procedure, two U.S. officials said Saturday.

The extraordinary breach of protocol — Mr. Austin is in charge of the country’s 1.4 million active-duty military at a time when the wars in Gaza and Ukraine have dominated the American national security landscape — has baffled officials across the government, including at the Pentagon.

Senior defense officials say Mr. Austin did not inform them until Thursday that he had been admitted to the intensive care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The Pentagon then informed the White House.

The Pentagon’s belated notification, first reported by Politico, confounded White House officials, one Biden administration official said. A spokeswoman for the National Security Council declined to comment on Saturday.

On Saturday night, Mr. Austin issued a mea culpa.

“I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed,” he said in a statement. “I commit to doing better.”

Mr. Austin added, “This was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decision about disclosure.”

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