Washington — The deputy secretary of defense was not told that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austinwhen she assumed some of his duties on Tuesday, two defense officials confirmed to CBS News.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was informed of Austin’s hospitalization on Thursday, the officials said. Hicks was in Puerto Rico and returned Saturday, according to one of the officials.
Austin has been hospitalized since Jan. 1 due to complications following a minor elective medical procedure, the Pentagon said Friday in its first acknowledgment of the hospitalization. Austin was in the ICU, according to an administration official.
The White House was also not aware of Austin’s status until days after he was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a Biden administration official told CBS News on Saturday.
The news that not even the Pentagon’s second in command was aware of his status adds to growing questions about his condition and why it was kept a secret.
CNN was first to report that Hicks was not aware of the hospitalization until days later.
“On the afternoon of January 2, the Secretary of Defense transferred to the Deputy Secretary of Defense certain operational responsibilities that require constant secure communications capabilities,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “This transfer occurs from time to time and is not tied chiefly to health related matters. The Deputy Secretary keeps a complete suite of communications and capable staff with her at all times, regardless of geographic location.”
Upon being told of the hospitalization, a senior defense official said Hicks “immediately engaged staff on the drafting of a public statement and congressional outreach” and made “contingency plans” to return to Washington on Friday.
“However, she was informed that same afternoon that the secretary was preparing to resume full communications capability and the associated operational responsibilities on Friday. She therefore remained in place to ensure the best communications posture in the interim,” the official said.
The White House was informed of Austin’s status on Thursday morning, according to a Biden administration official. A Senate aide said the Senate Armed Services Committee was notified Friday evening. A senior House Armed Services Committee aide said the committee was told before the public was made aware Friday.
While responsible for some of Austin’s duties, Hicks “made some routine operational and management decisions” for the Pentagon and “was fully authorized and ready to support the President on other military matters, should the need have arisen,” the senior defense official said.
Ryder said Sunday morning that Austin is “recovering well” and “resumed his full duties Friday evening.” Details were not available about when Austin would be discharged.
Austin acknowledged in a statement Saturday that he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed.”
“I commit to doing better,” he said. “But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”
David Martin, Nancy Cordes, Weijia Jiang, Kristin Brown, Scott MacFarlane and John Nolen contributed reporting.