Pentagon review finds DOD staff had no ‘ill intent’ in failing to disclose Austin’s condition

Last updated on February 26, 2024

The Pentagon found that senior officials had no “ill intent” in not informing the White House or the public about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization, according to findings from the department’s 30-day investigation into the episode.

The review, released in an
unclassified document Monday
, does not blame any staffers for the process and communications breakdown, in which the White House was not told of Austin’s December cancer diagnosis or his later hospitalization.

The findings come as Austin prepares to square off with members of the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing Thursday on his hospitalization and failure to alert the White House of his condition.

Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, ordered the review into the Pentagon’s conduct after Congress and the public were notified that Austin had medical issues. Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December and underwent a procedure later that month, none of which was initially disclosed.

His condition came to light after a second trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in January following complications with the routine procedure. The White House was confused and upset at how DOD’s senior-most officials failed to relay the information in a timely manner.

Austin took responsibility for the breakdown in communication, saying his need for privacy overcame what was a duty to inform the commander in chief and American people about his state.

The unclassified document makes clear that transition-of-authority procedures — meaning the handover of powers from the secretary to his deputy — were carried out normally throughout his two-week hospitalization in January.

But it also makes clear that Austin’s staff — including Magsamen, top Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder and public affairs chief Chris Meagher — didn’t know how to handle “an unprecedented situation.”

The report says the secretary’s team faced limitations, including medical privacy laws and Austin’s shifting state. “For privacy reasons, his staff were hesitant to pry or share any information that they did learn,” the report reads.

Still, the review concludes that while transfer-of-authority processes need improvement, “nothing examined during this review demonstrated any indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate.” The document does not name names, and does not specifically address DOD’s failure to notify the White House of Austin’s hospitalization or the transfer of authority either time.

The document said the review led to eight recommendations to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. The Pentagon said Austin approved of all eight,
two of which were implemented Saturday
. The remaining six will “swiftly” be executed in the days ahead, per the report.

“We are a learning organization and will continue to strengthen our processes as we identify ways to improve,” Ryder told reporters Monday after the review’s public disclosure.

The full classified report was provided to Congress late last week. It’s unlikely to quiet Republican lawmakers who’ve criticized Austin for keeping his hospitalization under wraps. Some GOP members have even called for the Pentagon chief to lose his job over the dust-up, although President Joe Biden has stood by Austin.

Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.