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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “undermined” the U.S. “constitutional commitment to civilian control of the military” and the nation’s “readiness in a time of crisis” when his admission to a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) was concealed from the White House. 

“Austin’s behavior was reckless, particularly at a time when war has broken out in Europe and the Middle East, China is a major threat in the Pacific, global commerce is being paralyzed by piracy in the Red Sea, and American forces are not only in harm’s way but being attacked by Iranian proxies. By keeping his incapacity a secret from the White House, he undermined our constitutional commitment to civilian control of the military and undermined U.S. readiness in a time of crisis,” Andy McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Fox News contributor, told Fox News Digital on Monday. 

Outrage broke out among conservative lawmakers and leaders last week as reports spread that Austin was receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and that the White House had been unaware for days. This week, calls have mounted that Austin resign or be fired over the matter, with lawmakers also demanding answers on the apparent communication breakdown in the chain of command.  

“Worryingly, we now have more questions than answers,” Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker said in a statement last week. “Why was the notification process under 5 U.S.C. 3349 not followed and who made the determination not to follow it? What role did the Secretary of Defense’s staff play? When exactly was the President notified? What justification did the Department have for withholding information from the National Security Council? To what extent was the Secretary incapacitated by his surgery?”

AUSTIN’S MYSTERY HOSPITAL STAY TOTALLY UNPRECEDENTED, COULD EMBOLDEN US ENEMIES: EXPERT

“The very fact that we have none of this information is an indictment of an administration which consistently holds Congressional authority on national defense matters in contempt,” Wicker added. 

Austin, 70, received an elective medical procedure on Dec. 22 at Walter Reed, and days later experienced “severe pain” while at home, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told Fox News on Sunday. He was again transported to the hospital on Jan. 1 to the intensive care unit.

Austin has resumed his duties and transferred out of the ICU, but remains at Walter Reed. It was revealed Tuesday that Austin underwent a prostatectomy late last month after a prostate diagnosis, and was admitted to the ICU last week due to developing a urinary tract infection following the procedure. 

WHITE HOUSE RESPONDS TO GOP CALLS FOR SEC AUSTIN’S RESIGNATION AFTER MYSTERY AILMENT, HOSPITALIZATION 

The media was made aware on Friday of Austin’s hospital treatment, and reports quickly followed that President Biden, the National Security Council and top Pentagon leaders – including Austin’s deputy, Kathleen Hicks – were kept in the dark regarding the hospitalization for days. Ryder told the media Monday that it took so long to flag the White House and National Security Council of the hospitalization because Austin’s chief of staff had the flu. 

McCarthy continued in his comment to Fox News Digital that “Secretary Austin should be fired but he won’t be.” 

“The Constitution reposes all executive power in a single official, the president, and makes the president commander in chief of the armed forces. This ensures civilian control of the armed forces: the U.S. military does not have independent constitutional standing – it answers to the chief executive and relies for its existence, operations and armaments on congressional legislation,” McCarthy said. 

The U.S. military is civilian controlled, meaning ultimate authority of the military is in the hands of the president, not a military officer. 

Pat Ryder, Pentagon spokesman

“It is President Biden’s duty to direct the executive branch, including the projection of American power, and to preserve and protect our constitutional framework. But whether we are talking about the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the failure to deter Russia’s aggression, provocations by China, or the ongoing Iran-backed attacks on U.S. forces, Biden has failed to act decisively in furtherance of American national security. Congress should investigate the Austin incident, but there is no reason to believe Biden is going to change,” he added.

DEFENSE SECRETARY AUSTIN RESUMES DUTIES, WAS IN INTENSIVE CARE UNIT FOR DAYS AS PUBLIC KEPT IN THE DARK 

The secretary of defense is sixth in the line for the presidential succession, behind other U.S. leaders such as the vice president, Speaker of the House and secretary of state.  

Fox News Digital also spoke to national security expert Robert Greenway, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for National Security, who detailed that Austin’s hospitalization without the president’s knowledge was unprecedented and that there are clear protocols to follow in the event of a defense secretary’s absence. 

Pentagon seen from the air

“The secretary of defense has a number of different statutory roles that are unique to his position, not least of which is in the direct military chain of command. That has implications for employment of our nuclear deterrence, but also for just the application of U.S. forces and the deployment of troops, which he alone is authorized on behalf, or at the direction of the president,” Greenway said Monday morning, “And in a crisis, of course, you know, there isn’t often time. And so every person who exercises the responsibility in the chain of command, has to be present for duty, or has to have someone performing their duties that is authorized to do so,”.  

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT TO UNDERGO REVIEW AFTER OVER FAILURES DURING AUSTIN’S HOSPITALIZATION

“There’s a small list of folks that can perform the duties of the secretary of defense in his absence, but there are clear procedures to be followed. It is certainly unclear if any of those steps were taken. In fact, the evidence, as reported to the public, indicates that there may well have been days in which no one was performing the duties of the secretary of defense,” he continued. 

President Joe Biden gesturing with right hand, US, UK flags behind him

The Pentagon said Monday evening that the Department of Defense will review the process by which top leaders are notified of the transfer of duties from the secretary of defense. 

Jennifer Walsh, the director of administration and management, will lead the review “to identify the relevant facts and circumstances during this period and evaluate the processes and procedures through which the Deputy Secretary of Defense was notified that she should carry out the functions and duties of the Secretary of Defense under 10 U.S.C. § 132(b) and Executive Order 13533,” a Defense Department statement said Monday afternoon. 

DOD SECOND IN COMMAND TOLD OF AUSTIN’S HOSPITALIZATION 2 DAYS AFTER TAKING OVER SOME OF HIS DUTIES

“The purpose of such review is to better understand the facts surrounding these events and to recommend appropriate processes going forward,” the statement said.

Lloyd Austin at a lectern with DOD backdrop behind him

Amid the initial chaos, Greenway noted that it was even unclear who authorized a military strike in Baghdad on Jan. 4. He argued that there was “reason to doubt whether or not civilians were exercising control over the military at” the point of the strike. 

The Pentagon has since said Austin and the White House had pre-approved the strike in Iraq before the secretary’s hospitalization. The strike, however, has further underscored the initial confusion of Austin’s concealed hospital treatment. 

DOD SECOND IN COMMAND TOLD OF AUSTIN’S HOSPITALIZATION 2 DAYS AFTER TAKING OVER SOME OF HIS DUTIES

Greenway argued that U.S. adversaries likely see the quiet hospitalization as an opportunity to “lash out.”

left to right: China's Xi, Russia's Putin and Iran's Khamenei

“Putin, Xi, Khamenei in Tehran, Hezbollah, all of our adversaries right now are looking at this with incredulity, as we are. And they’re already judging, I think, that they have an opportunity because of perceived weakness on the U.S.’s part… to lash out. I think this increases the likelihood of mischief internationally, as they see the United States is physically not prepared to take actions and the administration is not ready to do it when it can’t decide who’s in charge,” Greenway said. 

“Not only was this done during a time when we’re threatened across multiple theaters, but you could argue that… the reason that we’re in this is because we got bad policies, personnel and practices. This would reflect that. So I think this isn’t a result of what’s going on in the world. I think this is probably why the world is as it is because it’s not clear who’s in charge,” Greenway added. 

As calls mount that Austin resign or be fired, both the White House and Pentagon say there are no plans to replace him. A White House official on Monday told Fox News Digital that President Biden “continues to have full trust and confidence in the secretary.”

Fox News Digital’s Louis Casiano contributed to this report. 

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