The Department of Defense’s (DOD) second-in-command did not learn that she had taken over her boss’s responsibilities because he had been hospitalized until nearly three days later, the Pentagon said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin remains in the hospital after an emergency stay in the Intensive Care Unit, but resumed his full duties as of Friday — providing guidance to the Pentagon and monitoring DOD operations worldwide — and has communicated with his principal deputies, the Pentagon said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who was on leave in Puerto Rico at the time, made “routine decisions” on the Austin’s behalf during the week.

“Secretary Austin did not have to affirmatively delegate his duties because by statute, the Deputy Secretary is automatically authorized to perform the duties of the Secretary if he is unable to perform them. Medical professionals have been consulted throughout,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told the DCNF.

Austin was on leave and underwent an elective medical procedure on Dec. 22, returning home on Dec. 23, Ryder said. He began experiencing “severe pain” on Jan. 1 and was rushed in an ambulance back to the medical center where he was admitted to the ICU.

“He was placed in the hospital’s intensive care unit to ensure immediate access to due to his medical needs, but then remained in that location in part due to hospital space considerations and privacy,” Ryder said.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., who is not in the chain of command, was notified on Jan. 2 that Austin had been hospitalized and the secretary’s authorities transferred to the deputy secretary of defense, Ryder said. The Pentagon did not explain who determined to notify Brown or whether Hicks was fully aware she exercised the secretary’s authorities at that point.

Kelly Magsamen, Austin’s chief of staff, could have notified appropriate parties of the delegation of authorities, but Magsumen was apparently sick and did not inform Hicks or key White House leaders until Jan. 4.

“Due to illness, the Secretary’s Chief of Staff was unable to make notifications before then. She made those notifications on Thursday to the Deputy Secretary and National Security Advisor,” Ryder said.

It is not unusual for the defense secretary to transfer certain duties to his deputy without providing a specific reason, Ryder told CNN.

Hicks only then began planning a return to Washington, D.C., but nixed those plans after learning Austin would resume his post from the hospital on Friday, according to CNN.

The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as other top DOD officials, were notified the afternoon of Jan. 5, Ryder said, seemingly just before the Pentagon released a brief public statement regarding Austin’s hospitalization.

The Pentagon did not provide a discharge date for Austin.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Austin of unlawfully withholding information in a statement.

Wicker accused Austin of violating a federal statute that requires immediate notification to Congress when a vacancy occurs in the executive office and who will be serving as the acting official in said vacancy.

“This was an evolving situation involving a number of factors,” Ryder said. “We are considering the impact of any statutory reporting requirements and will provide updates as appropriate.”

Micaela Burrow on January 8, 2024

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