Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee demanded a formal briefing from Department of Defense officials on the circumstances surrounding Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s unexplained absence in a letter sent Wednesday.

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the panel, led 11 of his GOP colleagues in requiring a briefing from all relevant Pentagon officials by Jan. 19 to answer for Austin’s failure to disclose his hospitalization from Jan. 1 to late afternoon on Jan. 5, according to the letter. Wicker called Austin’s behavior “an intolerable breach of trust with the American people at a dangerous moment for U.S. national security.”


“Our branches of government share a sacred obligation to work together to keep the American people safe. We cannot do this without clear and open communication,” Wicker wrote in the letter.

Armed Services Republicans told DOD officials to be prepared to provide details about Austin’s capacity during his hospitalization, how the breakdown in notification procedures occurred, and how Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks could have performed Austin’s duties while on vacation in Puerto Rico.

Austin was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in an ambulance on Jan. 1 and moved to the intensive care unit on Jan. 2 to address severe pain stemming from an elective surgery he underwent on Dec. 22 to treat prostate cancer. Congress did not learn of Austin’s hospitalization until late on Jan. 5, one day after the president, the deputy secretary of defense, and top national security officials were notified.

During the period of hospitalization, the U.S. conducted a deadly retaliatory airstrike against a militant leader in Baghdad responsible for many of the attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. Austin and President Joe Biden approved the strike on Jan. 1 before Austin’s medical complications sent him to the hospital, according to the Pentagon.

“While our servicemembers are under attack from Iran-backed terrorists, our Sec Def went missing in action. No one notified Congress—in violation of the law,” Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, also on the panel, said in a statement on social media after the letter was sent.

Austin on Saturday acknowledged that he could have been more forthcoming with his hospitalization, but at that point apparently did not disclose his original cancer diagnosis in early December leading to the Dec. 22 procedure and later re-hospitalization.

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee launched their own inquiry into Austin on Tuesday. Wicker said he did not anticipate Austin resigning but hoped that the administration would be more forthcoming with Congress in the future, according to Fox Business. “I think we can put it past us … but I hope everybody’s learned a lesson here,” he told Fox Business. But Wicker, in his letter, suggested that Austin may have violated the law in failing to notify Hicks or the White House.

“Either Secretary Hicks did not fulfill the statute, or someone else at the Department of Defense withheld information from her that would have allowed her to fulfill the statute. Such disregard for clear statutory requirements is unacceptable,” the letter read.

The Department of Defense told the Daily Caller News Foundation it will respond directly to the lawmakers, as is the procedure for letters from Congress.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

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