Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has publicly apologized for not disclosing his recent hospitalization to the White House and the American public. Speaking in his first news conference since the undisclosed hospitalization and the drone attack in Jordan that resulted in three American soldiers’ deaths, Austin acknowledged, “We did not handle this right. I did not handle this right.”
While expressing pride in the Defense Department’s accomplishments, Austin admitted a shortfall in transparency and personally apologized to President Biden, who reportedly received the apology graciously. Importantly, Austin clarified that he never instructed his staff to keep his hospitalization secret.
Austin, still experiencing leg pain and utilizing a golf cart for Pentagon mobility, shared that his prostate cancer diagnosis was a significant personal challenge. Initially choosing privacy, he acknowledged the public nature of his role, recognizing the need to sacrifice some personal privacy. Austin conceded that a broader circle, especially including the president, should have been informed. The Pentagon is currently conducting an internal review, and an inspector general review is ongoing.
The news conference also addressed questions about the drone attack and the U.S. response. Austin emphasized the precarious situation in the Middle East, asserting that the U.S. will respond on its terms with a “multi-tiered” approach, aiming to neutralize more capability than in past actions.
Austin, hospitalized on New Year’s Day due to complications from prostate cancer surgery, returned to work on January 15. The delayed disclosure prompted concerns, and Austin took “full responsibility” for decisions made regarding the information release. This news conference provided him the opportunity to explain these decisions to the public.