Austin Didn’t Tell Biden About Cancer Despite Pledging Transparency

(Photo by Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin kept his prostate cancer and Dec. 22 surgery a secret from the president and the public even after he promised on Saturday to do a better job of communicating important information.

Austin in a statement Saturday had taken responsibility for his failure to disclose his condition following backlash after the revelation, five days after the fact, that Austin had been rushed to the hospital on Jan. 1 following complications from the Dec. 22 surgery. However, the defense secretary still did not tell President Joe Biden he received diagnosis of prostate cancer and had undergone a minimally-invasive surgery, during which he was knocked out, to eliminate the cancer, until Tuesday morning, national security spokesman John Kirby said and the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

“I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” Austin said in a statement Saturday. (RELATED: Marine Corps Gives Latest Update On Commandant Hospitalized After Cardiac Arrest)

He likely planned to inform the public of his prostate cancer at some point, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon. But the topic apparently did not come up during a Saturday phone call between the president and the defense secretary.

“I don’t see a scenario whereby this happens, and there was never any public acknowledgement about it. But in terms of the timeline and how we get to where we’re at the point of okay, it’s time to let the public know, you know, clearly, we could have done better and we will do better,” Ryder said.

The Pentagon initiated a review of the procedures for transferring authorities to address situations that might arise if the secretary of Defense was unable to be reached in a crisis situation, Ryder said. Effective immediately, officials will be required to explain why they are transferring any duties or authorities to subordinates.

The review focuses on the period in which Austin was in the hospital treating a urinary tract infection and ensuing complications, but lessons learned would apply to situations like Austin’s Dec. 22 surgery, Ryder said.

“We would similarly apply to the situation on December 22. The bottom line is ensuring that if there is a transfer of authority, making sure that the appropriate senior leaders in the chain of command know and importantly, there’s a rationale to be able to provide some perspective in terms of why these transfers of authority are occurring,” Ryder said.

Although Austin went to the hospital on Jan. 1 and doctors transferred him to the ICU on Jan. 2, national security leaders in the White House and Biden himself did not learn about the incident until Jan. 4.

“I can’t speak for the Secretary when it comes to his personal decision making as it relates to his medical condition,” Ryder said, explaining Austin’s decision to keep his cancer and treatment under wraps. “Again, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and highlight the information that I read out of the statement from the doctors, obviously, intensely personal, and very detailed,” he added.

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