US Defense Secretary summoned to testify to House over his secret hospitalisation

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been summoned to testify in front of a House committee over why his recent hospitalisation was kept a secret from the president.

A letter sent by House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers demanded that Mr Austin appear before a committee on 14 February to explain why decisions to withhold the information were made.

Mr Austin was hospitalised on New Year’s Day with complications resulting from prostate cancer treatment after undergoing a procedure to treat his prostate cancer on 22 December. He was subsequently transferred to intensive care on 2 January.

In his letter, Mr Rogers said that the Defense Secretary’s “full honesty and cooperation” were expected in the matter, adding that “anything short of that is completely unacceptable.”

“When you and I last spoke, you promised full transparency into questions regarding the secrecy of your recent hospitalization. While you did respond to some of my questions I had for you, a concerning number of questions were not addressed,” the letter read.

“Specifically, I am alarmed you refused to answer whether you instructed your staff to not inform the President of the United States or anyone else of your hospitalization.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin

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“Unfortunately, this leads me to believe that information is being withheld from Congress. Congress must understand what happened and who made decisions to prevent the disclosure of the whereabouts of a cabinet secretary.”

At the hearing next month Mr Austin is expected to provide “direct testimony regarding decisions made to withhold information from the President, Congress, and the American people.”

The letter from Mr Rogers also included a series of written questions for the committee to review in preparation for the hearing.

Mr Austin was heavily criticised after it was revealed that neither President Joe Biden nor Mr Austin’s deputy secretary, Kathleen Hicks, knew about the surgery or subsequent intensive care admission until 4 January.

Mr Austin also kept his cancer diagnosis a secret from Mr Biden and senior officials until 9 January.

Mr Austin, who lives in Virginia, later apologised for keeping his surgery a secret, saying he takes full responsibility and that he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed”.

The summons to the House Committee hearing comes shortly after the release of a 911 call revealing details of the night an ambulance was called for Mr Austin.

The aide who placed the call had asked the dispatcher to have first responders discreetly arrive on the scene.

“Can the ambulance not show up with lights and sirens? We’re trying to remain a little subtle,” said the caller, whose identity was redacted, according to an audio recording obtained by The Daily Beast.

The dispatcher responded by saying the ambulance, which arrived at Mr Austin’s home, could do that, noting that “usually when they turn into a residential neighborhood, they’ll turn them off”.

She added that the ambulance is required by law to run the sirens and lights on main streets.

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